The Global Recruiter
How to avoid adverse impact? Richard Justenhoven on an approach that protects recruiters from discrimination claims.
Are you unintentionally discriminating against certain applicants in your selection process? If your hiring practices are having an undue ‘adverse impact’ - a disproportionately negative effect on potential candidates because of their gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation - then you’re breaking the law, unless you have a justifiable, job-related reason.
Every applicant should have an equal chance to do their best in your selection process. However, we all have different skills, different values and different preferences. This means that some degree of adverse impact will inevitably exist in every recruitment process. The question is whether it is defendable. If not, you need to modify your process to minimise adverse impact. Only then can you match the right people to the right roles, for the right reasons. Here’s how to do it:
1. Conduct a thorough job analysis. A high level of adverse impact will occur if the criteria that you use to select candidates are not related to job performance. The job should always be the starting point. You need to identify the specific abilities, behaviour, character traits and competencies that will enable candidates to perform in the role effectively. If you’re not very clear about the qualities you require, unconscious bias will creep into your selection process. Being ‘good’ in the job might be somehow related to competencies that are often found in particular people, for example those of a certain gender or a certain age. That will increase the adverse impact in favour of those groups. However, if the competencies or attributes are clearly linked to a job-related criterion, then this is a defendable action.
2. Undertake a validation study. Analyse the results of your current recruitment practice to identify the level of adverse impact that is occurring. Are you recruiting a diverse mix of candidates or are your candidates predominantly from one group? A validation study provides data and evidence that will help you to evaluate the effectiveness and fairness of your selection process. With these insights, you’ll be able to monitor the impact of introducing job-related assessments - and you can be confident that your selection process will actually measure what it is designed to measure.
3. Use valid and justifiable assessments. Psychometric tests help to reduce adverse impact because they’re objective. A test doesn’t care if the candidate went to the same school or university as the recruiter. It takes human bias out of the process. Your assessments should have content validity (they must be representative of the tasks involved in the role); construct validity (they should measure relevant traits); criterion validity (they should predict what they’re meant to predict) and face validity (it should be obvious to candidates what the tests are assessing).
However, different people will always perform differently in any test. For example, younger people tend to perform better in concentration tests than older people; men tend to perform better than women in numerical reasoning tests; women tend to perform better in verbal reasoning tests. So assessments have certain biases. It isn’t possible to do anything about this. The answer is to combine different job-related tests to minimise bias and adverse impact. For example, combining numerical and verbal reasoning tests will help to counteract the bias towards each gender. But you can only do this if numerical and verbal reasoning are both relevant for the role. Situational judgement tests, which are context-driven and related to the role and the organisation, provide an accurate simulation of the job and are a useful option in an enlarged test battery. With a combination of different tests, you’ll be able to sift out applicants who do not fit your selection criteria.
4. Ensure your testing process is consistently fair. Psychometric assessments will help you to differentiate your applicants but the testing process cannot be discriminatory. A fair testing process will significantly reduce adverse impact. This means that groups of test takers should not be disadvantaged in their access to your assessments and they should receive exactly the same testing experience, no matter what ‘device’ they use to take your tests. If your tests are not entirely consistent across every device then a candidate will be penalised if they use the smaller screen on their smartphone, because they won’t receive the same testing experience that they’d get on a desktop computer. Every aspect of your selection process must be consistently fair and dependable for every candidate.
5. Broaden your attraction strategy to include different groups. If you only attract white males into your applicant pool, you’ll never achieve diversity. Every employer needs to reach out to different audiences and encourage individuals with different experiences and different backgrounds to apply. Don’t restrict your hiring to certain universities and ensure your job advertisements and promotions don’t contain images or descriptions that might alienate potential applicant groups.
6. Standardise your job interviews and assessment centres. It is human nature to like people who are similar to us; however this can lead to unconscious bias and adverse impact in recruitment. Interviewers are sometimes accused of recruiting ‘in their own image’, in other words they choose people who are similar to themselves. To overcome this, hiring managers (and assessors in assessment centres) should be trained in equal opportunities, diversity, employment law, interview skills and avoiding unconscious bias. Interviewers should ask structured, competency-based questions that probe for the desired attitudes and behaviours. They shouldn’t ask questions about aspects such as a physical handicap, pregnancy, sexual identity, religious beliefs, world views, age or ethnicity, unless the question is directly related to the job on offer. Best practice is to use a personality questionnaire that will generate an interview guide, as this will provide hiring managers with probing questions that they can ask to check and verify each candidate’s competencies, behaviours and suitability.
7. Always keep improving. You can monitor the level of adverse impact in your organisation with the ‘four-fifths rule’. This states that the success rate for members of any particular group - such as males, females or ethnic groups - should not be less than 80 percent of any other group’s success rate. Check your selection process at each stage, to confirm that a diverse mix of candidates is progressing, and aim to continuously improve the fairness of your hiring. For example, you might be able to further reduce adverse impact by adding a new test, adjusting your ‘cut-off scores’ or weighting certain tests differently.
Minimising adverse impact, through these seven steps, will provide three clear advantages. Firstly, it will help you to recruit the right people for each role - those who have the job-related competencies that you have identified as important. Secondly, bringing equality and inclusion into your recruitment process will enhance your employer brand and broaden your appeal to a diverse range of applicants, who could potentially improve the performance of your organisation. Finally, creating a valid and justifiable selection process, with documented evidence at each stage, will help to protect your organisation against lawsuits and discrimination claims.
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