The executive team, with your guidance, set admirable goals to increase workforce diversity. A budget was allocated for you and the talent acquisition team to develop the right recruiting partnerships, advertise job listings on the right channels, and incentivize your ERGs to participate at job fairs. The number of diverse applicants has increased, but the candidate experience throughout the hiring process isn’t leading to success — and those who do receive an offer are choosing to decline.
“We want to have more diverse teams; however, we can’t do that successfully if we only focus on the diversity piece,” says Dani Herrera, who provides DEI advisement to recruiting professionals and was recently the director of recruitment operations and diversity, equity, and inclusion at advertising firm R/GA. She explains there needs to be an equal focus on creating a hiring process that’s inclusive, accessible, and equitable.
That starts with assessing your current practices and identifying areas that leave room for hiring bias or that could be approached more inclusively.
“You really need to be thinking about how do we de-bias the process because it’s not possible to de-bias people,” explains Anna Dewar Gully, co-founder and co-CEO of strategy firm Tidal Equality.
To reduce biases through practice, she and her team launched a solution called the Equity Sequence, which provides five questions that can be applied to any decision or development to lead to a more equitable result. In the recruiting space, these questions can guide the way you write a job description, the criteria it includes, and where the job is advertised and to whom.
“We have our own biases, and as such, we embed those biases into the processes and systems that we build,” Herrera acknowledges. “Ideally, what I usually recommend is taking the time to pause and review your entire process…deconstructing every single step into very, very tiny pieces, and try to understand where biases are embedded.”
As you develop — or redevelop — your process, Dewar Gully says, “You have to design safeguards in your system of hiring to spot that bias or to correct for that bias.”
So to develop more equitable and inclusive hiring practices, and to work toward your company’s diversity hiring goals, here are eight steps you can take:
1. Look at the data and the details of your hiring process.
Any review needs to begin with a look at current recruiting data, Herrera says. This includes factors such as who is getting hired, who isn’t, where you’re looking for new talent, and what the company’s diversity recruitment goals are.
From there, dig deeper. In particular, you may want to investigate where there might be room for improvement. “Say that we extend an offer and that candidate declines the offer — I want to know why that is,” says Herrera.
To gain a more complete understanding of your company’s current hiring practices, she recommends asking the following questions:
- Why do we post jobs on certain sites and not others?
- Why do we move forward with particular candidates?
- How are hiring managers comparing resumes?
- What questions are being asked during interviews?
- How are hiring managers and other interviewers writing their assessments?
Gaining some of these insights might require the implementation of a new process (see step seven to learn how to get candidate feedback, for example) or conversations with your recruitment team and hiring managers to understand how things are being done.
Herrera explains that once you have this data available, the DEI and talent acquisition teams can work together to refine the process to address specific issues. Sometimes these insights might guide you to revamp the full hiring process. Other times it might be a case of training your hiring managers on how to do structured interviews to remain objective in their candidate assessments (see step five).
2. Remove biased language and unnecessary requirements from job descriptions.
Take a look at the language in your job descriptions and revise it to be inclusive. In addition to using language that’s inclusive of all genders, Herrera explains there are additional considerations.
To be inclusive of neurodiverse candidates, for instance, use plain language that’s easy for anyone to understand. That means short sentences, not a lot of jargon or complicated descriptions. “The other thing is also making sure that if we are using any video on our job descriptions or our company page, or if we have any pictures, that we are using subtitles and we are using alt text,” says Herrera.
Also consider the qualifications that are necessary to do the job successfully. Herrera recommends asking, “Are we adding a lot of requirements that we don’t necessarily need to the job description that might deter some candidates from applying?”
Job descriptions are often a legacy component of a company’s recruiting process and are not updated regularly. They might include requirements for a specific college degree or a number of years of experience working in a particular role, eliminating many otherwise skilled potential hires. In fact, considering less than 40% of adults over the age of 25 have a college degree, it considerably decreases your candidate pool.
It can also perpetuate an equity gap, especially among lower-income and underrepresented groups that are less likely to graduate college due to the high cost and commitment required.
“Recruiters need to work with managers on scoping positions, to push back on the common biases that often screen out candidates that may not fit the bill in the way that they have in the past, but may be a brilliant hire,” says workforce diversity consultant Jennifer Brown. You can help get these conversations started and facilitate the process of redefining qualifications to address the skills that are necessary and omit unnecessary requirements.
3. Create a sense of belonging from the start.
During the interview process, candidates are forming an impression of the company and its culture largely based on what recruiters and hiring managers communicate. One of the easiest ways you can coach them to exemplify inclusivity from the start is to use a candidate’s preferred pronouns. “Do not assume,” says Brown. “Ask pronouns. Share yours.”
During the recruitment process, Brown also notes that candidates should be interviewing the company just as much as the company is interviewing the candidate. This is why it’s important to communicate your DEI commitments and the culture your company offers — you can do this by sharing your company’s goals for the year and the progress it has made, or the employee resource groups (ERGs) your company has and some of the events they’ve held.
Another action you can encourage your recruiting team to take is to ask each candidate before their first interview: “Is there anything that I could do to make this conversation more successful for you?” Herrera says this gives candidates the opportunity to ask for reasonable accommodations, such as displaying subtitles during a virtual interview or not using video.
Then at the end of the interview, Herrera recommends having the interviewer ask the candidate, “Is there anything that you would like to discuss that we didn’t have the chance to talk about during our conversation?” Noting the continued stigma around disabilities, Herrera says, “Disclosing a reasonable accommodation is not something that everybody wants to do at the very beginning of the process.” Asking this question at the end, however, allows candidates to feel more comfortable having that discussion.
4. Share interview questions beforehand — or as much detail as you can.
A best practice Herrera suggests following, no matter the candidate, is sharing the interview questions beforehand. Acknowledging that many companies are wary of this step, she says, “If you can’t share the exact questions, give the candidate as much information as you possibly can about what’s going to happen during that interview.”
Is it a formal conversation in a conference room? How many people will the candidate speak with? What are all their names and titles?
If the interview is in a physical office, provide detailed instructions on how to get to the office, such as where to park and whether they will need to show the building’s receptionist their identification before getting into the elevator. Even better, Herrera suggests making a video to provide to candidates that shows the hiring manager or recruiter going through the steps to get to the office.
Providing details like these, Herrera explains, gives candidates more context for what to expect and can help reduce anxiety. But especially for neurodiverse candidates and individuals with disabilities, it can help them prepare for any challenges they might encounter.
5. Structure the way you conduct interviews.
Most of us have sat at one end of the interview table (or video screen) and, as a response to a casual question, found a connection with the person across from us — we went to the same college, played the same sport, have the same hobby.
While these may feel like positive interactions, Dewar Gully warns, “unstructured questions are a breeding ground for biased outcomes.” She says the risk of these occurrences is that “you might end up connecting with that person over life and some of those attributes that are similar to you, and forgetting to ask those most pertinent questions about competence, experience, and what that person can bring to the table.”
Brown recommends communicating with your recruiting and hiring managers about the importance of excluding casual questions that can elicit bias and make it impossible to objectively compare your candidates.
Also important is making sure there are several diverse interviewers interviewing each candidate — but not at the same time. When you have multiple interviewers in the room at the same time, Dewar Gully says, “the chances that the power dynamics are going to sway people’s evaluations are very strong.”
If your interviews are in person, this could mean the candidate remains in a conference room while interviewers take turns meeting with them. If virtual, you could schedule the interviews back to back or over the course of a week.
“The key is making sure that the person evaluating the candidate has the chance to form their opinions privately,” says Dewar Gully.
Whichever method you choose, make sure your candidates understand that conducting separate interviews and being asked the same set of questions is to help make the process more equitable for them — not to cause frustration or waste their time.
6. Get help from tech, but do your research before choosing a tech solution.
Technology solutions can be helpful in removing areas of bias that we miss on our own. For example, Brown says tech can play a helpful role in things like anonymizing resumes. Herrera notes that some great AI tools, such as Textio (which Brown also recommends), can help write more inclusive job descriptions.
However, not all tech solutions are created equal. “The ones that I’m hesitant about are those AI platforms that reject candidates on behalf of a recruiter or an interviewer or a hiring manager,” says Herrera.
Like with any new platform, companies must take the time to understand how it works. “Ask the hard questions to their provider,” Herrera advises. “Ask about their audits, ask about where they’re getting the data, how often they’re updating the data, how the algorithm was trained to select one candidate or reject another candidate.”
It’s also important to consider who designed the solution and for what purpose, says Dewar Gully. “Was it really built to solve an equity problem? And if so, how do they explain that the problem is being solved? Is that backed up by evidence and research?”
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7. Ask for candidates’ feedback on the interview process.
The candidates you interview are more than likely to have opinions about your hiring process. Dewar Gully notes that they are “an incredible source of valuable information about what’s working and what’s not working from an equity perspective.”
She recommends framing the interview process as an opportunity for both sides to learn about one another. “You can say, ‘It’s our objective to keep building a more equitable process over time,’” Dewar Gully suggests. “That sends a really positive signal about an organization’s willingness to listen and learn and change.”
At the end of the hiring process, Herrera recommends that the recruiter reach out to the candidate to have a quick conversation — for instance, asking why the candidate decided to decline the offer. For larger organizations, a simple one- or two-question survey may be more appropriate.
Gathering feedback after the interview and selection process is complete may give you insights into certain roadblocks or challenges candidates faced and unveil ways you can improve the candidate experience.
One company Herrera worked with, for example, received feedback from a candidate who said they weren’t comfortable being on-camera during a virtual interview because they lacked a dedicated workspace at home and had roommates. “This insight prompted the recruitment team to change how remote interviews are conducted,” Herrera explained. Candidates now have the option to do the interview by phone, over video with their camera turned off, or use a neutral Zoom background provided by the company.
8. Review your hiring practices again — and again and again.
Revamping your hiring practices to remove biases and increase equity is an ongoing process. “It is not something that you will need to do only once,” says Herrera. “It’s something that every company will need to do constantly.”
She suggests reviewing your process twice a year, if possible. And just as important is providing training every time your company brings in a new recruiter or hiring manager.
“Biases are part of our human brains,” notes Herrera. “They’re part of the way that we work, and they show up very differently in every single person. So it’s something that we need to constantly work on.”