8 min read

How To Avoid Discrimination In Recruitment

Rachel Buchanan
Rachel Buchanan February 21, 2023
how to avoid discrimination in recruitment

Discrimination is forbidden by law in every aspect of employment and that includes recruitment. Discrimination means to treat an individual less favorably or differently, based on race, color, sex (identity, orientation, or pregnancy), religion, national origin, or relating to a specific disability or class of individuals with disabilities.

This article looks at the particular issue of discrimination in the recruitment phase of employment and how HR managers and recruiters can avoid it. Recruiters should be mindful that discrimination claims can be brought against an organization whether or not the individual succeeded in the application process.

discrimination in recruitment

What does discrimination in recruitment look like?

Understanding what discrimination in recruitment is, how it can manifest, and why it is so important to ensure that it doesn't happen from the very first touchpoints with a business is crucial.

Discrimination in recruitment can be explicit and deliberate, or it can be unconscious, or unknowing. It can also be a combination of the two.

Deliberate discrimination might be actively recruiting or targeting a specific demographic - for example, young men under 30, when this is not strictly necessary for the role, or, for example, making it known that the company favors graduates from specific schools, or that there is no point in making an application if you are not from a particular background.

Unconscious discrimination on the other hand is where there is no deliberate narrowing of the field, but where recruiters or staff that are included in the recruitment process simply have an unspoken preference. This might be a preference for background, race, color, sex, a specific type of school or college, or simply a preference for a certain type of candidate (for example, young women when age is irrelevant to the role). Not addressing this and deliberately keeping this in check can easily lead to a preference for hiring someone "like them", or from a very specific background.

how to avoid discrimination in recruitment

Examples of discrimination in recruitment

Asking about a candidate's marital status, age, or religion

Asking job applicants about their marital status, age, or religion during an interview or in an application form could constitute unlawful discrimination. HR staff and recruiters should only be asking for information that might inform a decision. Therefore if there is no compelling business need to know an applicant's marital status, age, or religion then these questions should be left out. There is no need to address applicants by title and last name. A recruiter might feel a candidate is too old or young for a role, but this must be based on experience - or lack thereof - rather than by asking for the applicant's age or date of birth.

Setting unrealistic physical requirements

There will of course be some roles that some disabled applicants are simply physically unable to carry out, but, for the majority of roles with some modifications, the role is just as easily carried out by someone with disabilities as those without. Where there are specific health and safety reasons, or there is an unavoidable business reason it would not be classed as discrimination. Recruiters should therefore be careful not to set unrealistic physical requirements that would make it difficult for disabled people or those with certain health conditions to apply for roles.

Requiring applicants to disclose their race or ethnicity

There is no role where it would be appropriate to require applicants to disclose their race or ethnicity. Recruiters should not mistake anonymized data gathering to survey how wide a pool of candidates they may be reaching - which could be appropriate - with asking direct or indirect questions about race or ethnicity. It is racial discrimination to decide on an individual based on their skin color or ethnicity and one that has been protected in law since 1964.

Asking applicants to provide their gender

Gender discrimination is different from sex discrimination, although both are in breach of employment laws. Gender discrimination is where an individual may be treated differently based on their outward presentation of gender. This may be different from their sexual orientation or sex.

Again, to increase diversity in the workplace employers may be seeking information about what proportion of applicants present as a specific gender. It is not appropriate to do this where it can be taken into account during the decision-making process.

How to avoid discrimination in recruitment

It is vital to have policies and procedures in place to ensure organizations avoid discrimination in recruitment. This means considering the whole process from the very first job advert right through to the placement of those adverts, the narrowing down of candidates, and then right the way through to interviews, decisions, and beyond. Here are seven steps to consider:

1. Review your current recruitment process

The first step is a thorough review of your current recruitment process, actively seeking out all examples and current pitfalls. It is advisable to consider the process through each lens in turn, e.g. is the current application process accessible to individuals with disabilities, does the current application process ask for any personal information (e.g. gender, religion, sexual orientation) that is not relevant to the role? At each stage, these issues should be noted and flagged to be reviewed and updated.

2. Better job adverts

Employers should go further than simply ensuring that job adverts do not include any discriminatory language. Employers and recruiters must ensure that all parts of the advert are relevant to the role and do not exclude any individuals. This might be ensuring that all wording is neutral and does not favor any sex, gender, age, or other protected characteristic and that all applications are invited. It is good practice to include details by which those that have disabilities may contact the recruiting team to discuss requirements, such as a version in braille, for example.

3. Use multiple job boards

Make sure that you are not intentionally or otherwise excluding candidates. It is important to use a varied recruitment channel including generic as well as niche job boards. The aim is to get as wide a range of suitably qualified applicants to apply. This also includes not placing unnecessary restrictions on qualifications that aren't essential for the role, and ensuring a good mix of channels such as traditional print media, social media, both written and video posts with spoken words, and posted on job boards that target a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

4. Blind Resumes

Make sure that your process utilizes 'blind resumes'. Blind resumes are ones where all personal identifying data has been removed. This can even include transferring the contents to a uniform font and so on, so there is less chance that the decision maker could infer any background. Usually, personal details such as name and other personal details will be removed and each resume/application allocated a number. Ideally the year of graduation, and even the place of graduation or college would be removed, along with sections relating to hobbies and other information that might lead to information being inferred about their background.

5. Pre-employment testing

When using pre-employment testing, or a talent assessment framework, recruiters should ensure it is designed to remove bias and anonymize the process. It should also be considered whether the types of pre-employment testing might be actively favoring one type of candidate, for example, by requiring the use of specific technology, or by not taking into account disabilities. Pre-employment testing should therefore be considered carefully to make sure it works in favor of reducing discrimination in recruitment.

6. Redesign the interview process

The interview process should be carefully considered to ensure that it works for the recruiting employer allowing a recruiting decision to be made, and also does not favor one specific type of candidate. Interviews should be fixed at times when it is possible to attend easily, in a location accessible by anyone with disabilities, and should be carried out in a manner that is respectful and kind, even when the outcome might not be hiring the individual.

Questions should be agreed upon in advance, and go across all those interviewed. They should not include asking for information about relationships, children, age, or religion and a grading system for candidates should be agreed upon as well.

7. Diversity training

All staff members involved in the recruitment process must undertake diversity training. No one is likely to admit that they might be racist, or that they prefer to hire people in their model, or from their background or graduates from their college, but everyone suffers from unconscious biases. By everyone undergoing regular training to remind them of these pitfalls, it should both help guard against discrimination in the workplace and also give the organization some protection should a claim be brought.

Rachel Buchanan
Rachel Buchanan February 21, 2023

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