Recruitment with a Lens for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion


The reasons for an employer to invest in diverse teams are numerous and well-researched. They include various benefits ranging from diverse teams building more equitable work environments to superior performance in comparison to more homogeneous teams. Yet despite recognition of its intrinsic value, for many organizations recruiting for diversity remains an elusive endeavor. For recruitments in general, the cost in resources quickly adds up when repeatedly hiring search firms to respond to high turnover, or when frequently reallocating the time of your organization’s professionals to service search committees. Not to mention all the lost productivity during periods of vacancies for positions and during the initial months of training and acclimation for new hires. To complicate matters, many, if not most, internal as well as external hiring teams lack expertise in recruitment designed to maximize best practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hiring process. A well-designed recruitment protocol will mitigate structural and interpersonal biases in order to establish diverse teams and ultimately save considerable time and money for a business. In the process there are valuable lessons as take-aways to foster a more inclusive and equitable workplace that help teams thrive.

Bias that explicitly or implicitly filters out the diversity of the candidate pool can be found in each phase of the recruitment cycle: recruitment planning, candidate sourcing, screening, interviews, reference checks, selection and salary/benefits negotiations.
In this article we’ll address responses to three outstanding obstacles to recruitment for a diverse workplace: biases in recruitment planning expectations, biases in sourcing, and biases in the interview process.

Bias in Recruitment Planning Expectations
How much increase in diversity has your organization experienced in the past five to ten years? If you are not seeing the desired increase in hires, it’s important to consider that a recruitment system that hasn’t significantly increased the diversity of employees, and has not been significantly reformed, will only reproduce the status quo. The expectation that the traditional recruitment process is inherently fair and equal based on good intentions and the conviction that an organization is sincerely an equal opportunity employer is not enough to change the results.

Doing the same recruitment routine based on the value of being an equal opportunity employer does not translate to equitable hiring.

In fact, traditional recruitment programs are not quite as equal in opportunities provided as one may think, as there is typically individual and structural bias laced throughout each phase of the recruitment cycle in favor of socially dominant identity groups (e.g. candidates identified as male, white, able-bodied, etc.). Planning recruitment limited to the framework of equal opportunity is also insufficient because it sets a low bar for achievement – that success is in delivering a one-size-fits-all approach for employment opportunities. Diversity simply doesn’t fit into one size. Further, traditional recruitment planning based on equal opportunity alone often leads candidate evaluators to inadvertently devalue diversity and view it as a liability because it is often interpreted as a principle of not seeing color, gender, ability status, etc. Of course, it is both a moral and legal imperative to not discriminate against protected classes. But this limited approach falls short because it expects diversity to be delivered in hiring despite not being able to see it, much less proactively tailor recruitment methods for diverse needs and interests. The bar for diversity recruitment efforts can and should be much higher.

Designing recruitment systems not simply for equal opportunity but also for equitable outcomes establishes a more comprehensive and proactive orientation to recruitment. Instead of framing recruitment system success as simply the absence of explicit discrimination, design for equitable outcomes sets aspirational goals declaring an organization’s purpose to establish an equitably diverse employee composition. With a clear directive and performance measures from organizational leadership, strategic plans to accomplish these goals become prioritized and developed with assessment indicators to monitor progress and create a culture of accountability for this work. One approach to increase accountability is by linking pay to performance. Some firms, such as Uber and Microsoft, are creating accountability to increase diversity to desired percentages by making the effort a key metric of performance for some of its executive leadership, whose compensation is tied to strides made in reaching goals for diverse representation. Overall, to adopt a more comprehensive recruitment system, it is first necessary for organizational leadership, HR professionals and hiring managers to let go of bias in favor of the traditional expectations about recruitment which incorrectly assume that an equal opportunity stance of not being actively discriminatory is sufficient to hire diverse teams.

Bias in Outreach
The traditional candidate sourcing protocol consistently reproduces mostly demographically homogeneous candidate pools because the traditional standard of success has been about avoiding explicit discrimination towards individuals, not about proactively and systematically creating a more diverse candidate pipeline. In a society in which segregation is a prominent feature, from housing to social networks, it is no wonder when the professional networks and communication channels that businesses rely on for recruiting are quite homogeneous as well (Chugh, 2018). A key element to a reformed recruitment plan for equitable outcomes is customized outreach to proactively expand your network, and measure progress. In addition to position promotion on your standard job boards and media outlets, it is important to find and communicate on channels that are culturally specific, particularly those that speak to your most underrepresented populations. Consider outreach to culturally specific channels on a local, regional, and national scale as appropriate, such as professional associations, employee resource groups, social media groups, community press outlets, foundations, community organization leaders, and college campus groups, potentially via an office of diversity and inclusion. Important to success in culturally specific outreach is the development of healthy relationships. Be reciprocal and look for ways to be accommodating rather than imposing with community partners. With appropriate investment in relationship-building, your organization’s professional network will expand to become more diverse. In order to meaningfully diversify the candidate pool, organizational representatives need to let go of reliance on their homogeneous network familiarity bias and proactively meet candidates from underrepresented communities where they are.

Bias in Interviews
Traditional interview processes are commonly riddled with bias, which undermine a fair evaluation process and selection of the best candidate. Three of the worst offending factors contributing to biased interviews are: non-standardized interview protocols, inconsistent candidate evaluation guidelines, and unchecked personal biases of individual evaluators.

Non-standardized interview protocols are characterized by rushed or informal interview practices that display a lack of uniformity in candidate experiences. An example of this is the occurrence of widely varying periods of advanced notifications for scheduling interviews and for providing information to candidates about upcoming interviews, allowing them uneven windows of time to prepare for interviews. Another example is when candidates are interviewed under notably different interview conditions, such as by size or composition of the interview panel, or by allowing distinct interview questions to frame the interview experience. Additionally, when hiring teams are rushed by their schedules, some candidates may be privileged with more or less time for consideration during post-interview evaluation debriefs. A non-standardized interview process creates greater potential to disadvantage some candidates with less opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications due to disparate opportunities for evaluation.

Inconsistent candidate evaluation guidelines occur when there is a lack of clarity and common understanding among interview panelists and the hiring manager about the prioritized skills and traits to be evaluated for each candidate. This leads to biased scoring of candidates based on the interpretations of each evaluator about the vague guidelines. Without a clear candidate evaluation scoring rubric and guidelines for application that underscore prioritized qualifications, evaluators will create their own criteria. The lack of intentional design for an equitable candidate evaluation process invites subjectivity, which reinforces hiring based on the status quo.

Unchecked personal biases may derail equitable hiring practices when candidate evaluations are unduly influenced by sentiments, perceptions or observations of individual evaluators that are not centered on assessing the relevant qualifications of each candidate for the job. We are all susceptible to a wide range of cognitive biases, especially because we are usually not conscious of their operation. For example, in an interview setting, inter-group bias occurs when an interviewer views a candidate according to stereotypes or preconceived notions of a different group (think education level, nationality, race, gender, religion, etc), whether conscious of these perceptions or not. Confirmation bias occurs when an interviewer focuses on information that proves their preconceptions about a candidate, or a stereotype about one of their social identities, even when that notion is not consistent with the larger pool of evidence. The halo effect occurs when an interviewer highlights one quality of a candidate that they like or identify with and as a result associates that person with positive qualities in general. These and many other forms of bias, if not attended to, prevent fair interview evaluations.

10 essential recommendations for more equitable interviewing:

  1. Standardize the interview process for a common candidate experience. Standardized information provided to candidates, interview scheduling, methods of interviewing, interview questions, etc. are essential for fairness to ensure that the only significant variable will be the responses by the candidates under the same interview conditions in order to compare apples to apples in evaluation.
  2. Select a fixed set of interview questions that predict job-performance by focusing on past behaviors and performance relevant to the job responsibilities.
  3. Ask interview questions to evaluate how a candidate’s performance in the position may effectively support diversity, equity and inclusion relevant to the work, and regarding collaboration skills.
  4. When possible, apply a skills test simulation to see the candidate in action. Evaluating performance over perceptions about candidates leaves less opportunity for individual biases to influence decisions.
  5. Standardize a scoring rubric with clear indicators for high, low, or average responses, and prepare panelists to have a common understanding of the desired indicators for evaluation.
  6. Utilize diverse interview evaluator panels. If candidates from underrepresented identity groups don’t see themselves represented by evaluators, they are not receiving an equitable interview experience with majority group candidates.
  7. Train interview panelists to be mindful of unconscious bias. This may begin with a requirement for all panelists to have completed Harvard University’s Implicit Bias Test, a ten-minute diagnostic assessment to spark introspection about individual biases. Formal anti-bias workshops offer more guided reflection.
  8. Do not rush the interview evaluation process. Individual bias is heightened under conditions of time pressure and high stress. Mitigate bias by structuring adequate time for interview round debriefs that allow each evaluator time to first individually complete their evaluation notes and then to allow each equitable time to share their observations in discussion.
  9. Cultivate psychological safety. Members of teams perform better when they have a sense of psychological safety in the group. Therefore, it is essential that members of evaluation panels feel empowered to speak their mind without intimidation or interpersonal fear of reprimand, judgment, or dismissal in order to fully contribute the substance and value of their observations and perspective.
  10. Make your diverse set of evaluations count and be transparent about the selection protocol with evaluators. Be clear about how panelists’ evaluations will be valued and factored for candidate selection. A hiring manager who simply bypasses without transparency the recommendations contributed by evaluators risks generating distrust in relationships with diverse community and/or employee stakeholders, and potential loss of future collaboration or buy-in. Further, such a unilateral decision undercuts the time and effort to acquire the added value of diverse viewpoints, and it instead relegates the decision to the biases of one individual manager.

Biases, if unchecked, are ubiquitous individually as well as structurally within recruitment cycles of organizations and they severely interrupt progress towards more diverse and equitable hiring. Because these barriers are ingrained at multiple levels, transformational change requires reframing what recruitment for diversity looks through individual training development as well as structural reform centering best practices for equitable outcomes.