Much of my work involves conducting Equity Audits. That is, I review employment policies and practices through an equity lens and make recommendations for change. One component of an Equity Audit is a review of an organization’s hiring and selection policies and practices. The goal is to remove barriers to the hiring of candidates from diverse backgrounds, communities, and identities so that they can be fairly assessed based on their job-related skills and abilities. The term used in human resources circles is “bias-free hiring.”
Yes, bias-free hiring is a misnomer because it is impossible for any human being, no matter how self-aware or open minded, to be free from bias. Bias is automatically introduced once people become involved in the process. However, there are ways to structure the hiring process to minimize the impact of bias and to support candidates to do their best in the interview.
A bias-free hiring process is one that doesn’t pose any barriers to candidates based on their identity or any factors that don’t relate to their ability to do the job. Some of these barriers include:
But you can’t hire for diversity without first creating a fair and equitable hiring process. If your organization’s hiring practices continue to be influenced by nepotism and favouritism, subjectivity, hiring for “fit”, and so on, then as your organization focuses on hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds, communities, and identities they are likely to be seen as having been hired because of who they know or some other factor not related to their ability to do the job. They will be set up for failure. First, they may not have the skills, experience, and knowledge to be effective in the job. Secondly, their colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates are likely to see them as being hired to fill a “diversity quota,” and may not support them to be successful in their role.
There is disagreement about whether bias-free hiring alone will diversify the workforce. I contend that there are many fully qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds available for many jobs. Many are underemployed, unemployed, or fully employed but seeking a job with better opportunities or at a more welcoming and inclusive organization. If a hiring process is free of bias, it certainly would help hire candidates from diverse backgrounds.
But we know that competitions can never be completely bias-free. Research shows that given equally qualified men and women, men are more likely to be offered the job. Likewise, given an equally qualified Black person and White person, research shows that the White person is more likely to be offered the job. In many cases, a man or White person will be hired over a better-qualified woman or Black person.
In addition, in many organizations, the gaps in representation are so great that they will never be closed simply through a bias-free hiring process. As such, organizations need to proactively hire for diversity by using one of the following approaches:
Selection among equally qualified candidates
This is the mildest form of employment equity and occurs when someone from a diverse background, community, or identity is chosen from a pool of equally qualified candidates (e.g., they score within 10% of the highest-scoring candidate). In this case, when several candidates are equally qualified, the candidate from a diverse background, community, or identity is hired.
Selection among comparable candidates
A slightly stronger form of employment equity occurs when someone from a diverse background, community, or identity is roughly comparable to other candidates (e.g., their overall score is lower, but they are still fully qualified for the position). This still results in the hiring of a qualified person for the position.
Although the Canadian labour market is becoming increasingly diverse, there is a growing gap between those who are employed in a position commensurate with their skills and qualifications as well as a growing gap between the diversity of employees and that of the communities they serve. Closing these gaps means that organizations not only need to implement good human resources policies and practices that help create a bias-free hiring process, but they also need to understand the value of having a more diverse workforce.
The leaders of organizations also need to ask themselves, if their hiring process excludes Indigenous peoples, racialized people, persons with disabilities, those who identify as LGBTQ2S+, and in some occupations women, are they truly hiring the best person for the job? And what are they missing when their employees don’t reflect the diversity of the community they serve?