Inclusive hiring: 5 effective steps you can take today

Inclusive hiring equips your team and your organization with diverse skills and higher collective intelligence - just like this jazzy packet of colourful crayons"

Bias in hiring is well documented. Application and interview assessments perpetuate inequality if biases aren’t interrupted and addressed. There are lots of practical steps you can take to improve hiring processes and counter bias – we’ve listed 5 to start with. Build a more representative and more effective team and a more inclusive workplace.

Salt is committed to diversity and inclusion. Our expert consultants can help you build a team that delivers results now and in the future. We can help you find the right talent for your needs.

Jump down to our five effective steps or start with some insight into why bother with inclusive hiring and the frameworks for inclusive cultures.

Why bother with inclusive hiring?

Bias in hiring perpetuates pay gaps, inequal career progression, and lack of representation at managerial and leadership levels. It maintains a homogenous workforce: where elite identities outnumber other groups and there is limited representation or diverse experience to draw on.

Inclusive workforces are proven to perform better than homogenous ones. Statistics and studies show that companies who’ve incorporated diversity programs as business strategies benefit from:

  • better decision-making up to 87% of the time
  • making decisions and executing actions 2 times faster as a diverse team
  • with 35% higher EBIT (earnings before investment and taxation).

Collectively, well-managed diverse groups have overall higher intelligence, better decision making and problem-solving skills.  

But most anti-bias programs don’t deliver results. As a manager, it can feel difficult to make a positive and lasting difference, even though you’re on the hiring side of the interview table.

Inclusive hiring starts with your workplace culture

While it’s important to be inclusive in hiring and employ strategies to safeguard against implicit bias, leveraging the benefits of a diverse workforce and inclusive work culture starts with addressing the way you currently work.

You can’t outsource equality, diversity and inclusion to your HR team, or your new hires. What Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas call an “add diversity and stir” approach. Internal work practices and environment need to be inclusive to see any benefit from inclusive hiring.

Ely and Thomas have been advocating since 1996 for workplaces to adopt a ‘learning-and-effectiveness paradigm’ to manage and leverage diversity. What they mean by this is companies should cultivate:

“A learning orientation toward diversity—one in which people draw on their experiences as members of particular identity groups to reconceive tasks, products, business processes, and organizational norms—enables companies to increase their effectiveness.” Getting Serious About Diversity: Enough Already with the Business Case by Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas

In their Harvard Business Review article in 2020 they advocate 4 strategies to help instil this paradigm:

  1. Build trust:
    Create a workplace where everyone can feel safe expressing themselves
  2. Actively work against discrimination and subordination:
    Measures like affinity groups, mentoring programs, work-family accommodation policies, and unconscious-bias training are great improvements but require top level buy-in from leaders to result in any meaningful change and help every employee thrive.
  3. Embrace a wide range of styles and voices:
    Actively work against the systemic or overt silencing of certain voices or behavioral styles – especially as the reaction to certain mannerisms are key indicators of implicit biases towards specific groups – and capture this in an objective performance management matrix and system that interrupts implicit bias.
  4. Make cultural differences a resource for learning
    Encourage and learn from open discussions that include different identity groups – with leaders accepting employees’ experiences and using these as a framework to enhance and improve organizational culture.

Both at a level of culture for existing employees and processes for hiring new talent, managers need to value difference as a strength.

Management research scholar Lynn Shore has developed a model suggesting inclusion exists at the intersection of belongingness and value in uniqueness:

  • Belongingness:
    The extent an employee feels like they are part of the group or culture – an “insider.” 
  • Value in uniqueness:
    The extent an employee is made to feel what makes them unique or different from the group will be appreciated.
Source: www.journals.sagepub.com -reformatted by Joshbersin,

Seeing the value in difference or uniqueness is key. Diversity in hiring and in teams shouldn’t be about box ticking or quotas – it should be about investing in a workplace for all.

Eliminating bias is difficult – but you can work to interrupt bias

In their Harvard Business Review article, Joan C. Williams and Sky Mihaylo write of four distinct ways bias plays out in everyday work interactions:

  1. Prove it again:
    Some groups have to prove themselves more than others do.
  2. Tightrope:
    A narrower range of behaviors is accepted from some groups than from others.
  3. Maternal wall:
    Women with children see their commitment and competence questioned or face disapproval for being too career focused.
  4. Tug-of-war:
    Disadvantaged groups find themselves pitted against one another because of differing strategies for assimilating—or refusing to do so.

Once you can interpret bias, you’re able to interrupt it. We should all strive to be bias interrupters in hiring.

There are lots of ways to work towards this and build a more inclusive workplace for your people now and in the future.

1. Demand a diverse pool of candidates

Whether you’re recruiting internally or with recruiters like Salt, make it clear that you expect a diverse pool of candidates. This means more than just one female or minority candidate.

Research shows that the odds of hiring a woman are 79 times as great if at least two women are in the finalist pool. The odds of hiring a nonwhite candidate are 194 times as great with at least two finalist minority applicants.

2. Establish objective criteria ahead of time

Making a decision based on who’s “a good culture fit” or “the right fit for the team” is very susceptible to implicit bias. That ‘fit’ could be more to do with the candidate having a similar background or interests (homophily – an affinity to similar others).

In addition to this, candidates in out-groups are often subjected to more scrutiny. One example would be a working mother having her commitment called into question in a way that a working father wouldn’t.

Often out-group candidates need to code-switch and adjust the way they speak or behave to come across favorably. This is an unfair disadvantage if they display the same mannerisms as their elite counterparts and they are received in an unfavorable way due to stereotyping; for example, a ‘passionate’ white man compared to an ‘angry’ Black woman. Code-switching takes an emotional toll and reinforces to the individual that they don’t belong, and they can’t be themselves.

Create a matrix to share with your recruiters and your team and mark every candidate on the same matrix. This should be skills and competencies based, relating to what you need for the role.

By clarifying ahead of time what skills and person you are looking for, and agreeing these criteria across the team, you protect against unfairly discriminating against out-groups.

3. Diversify your decision-makers

A matrix isn’t sufficient unless it holds you accountable. Even well-meaning and experienced allies cannot fully understand or empathize with another identity and will be susceptible to implicit biases they aren’t aware of.

Include different team members in your interview process and be open to hearing their feedback even if it’s different from your own. Don’t pick someone similar to you in outlook, or if possible, identity. Challenge yourself to listen to alternate views and assessments.

Diversifying the decision-making process also means inviting your team or members of other teams to hold you accountable for your goal to be inclusive in hiring. They can serve as a bias interrupter as well.

4. Avoid only referral hiring

Our networks often reflect our implicit biases. You’re more likely to connect to someone like yourself – so hiring through your own or your employees’ social networks can perpetuate homogeneity within an organization.

You can and should work to expand and diversify your network – but be conscious that the reasons you connect to someone are different from the reasons for hiring that person. Every individual you hire should be objectively reviewed according to the matrix of skills you are hiring for.

The same applies to internal promotions. In-groups are often judged on their potential rather than their results, and this is an unfair advantage. With an objective matrix of criteria for the role, you are better able to evaluate someone you might know and like more fairly.

5. Structure interviews with skills-based questions

From the matrix, you devised internally – develop a set of interview questions that you ask every person. Make sure each question relates directly to the desired knowledge and skills you’ve outlined. You must vet your questions to ensure that they aren’t biased and relate directly to what’s required for the role.

One way of preventing too heavy a focus on qualifications, education or work experience, which while important are also not equally accessible to all, is including competency-based questions that allow candidates to show their thinking and approach.

The STAR technique is a well-known method for answering these questions:

  • Situation: Describe the situation and when it took place.
  • Task: Explain the task and what was the goal.
  • Action: Provide details about the action you took to attain this.
  • Result: Conclude with the result of your action.

Skills assessments – such as a practical task with a specific tool or a theoretical situation that tests a candidate’s approach – are less susceptible to bias and allow you to start to quantify candidates’ skillsets to find the right talent for your task and team.

Decide on a rating system per question and write a rating immediately. This allows you to keep the matrix in mind and prevent unfair favoritism. Rate the answers immediately—that will allow you to compare candidates fairly on a pre-established rubric and prevent favoritism.

How Salt can help

Check out our latest jobs and our job searching advice – or submit your CV to get help from our recruitment specialists

Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more tips, advice and inspiring stories!

Salt is committed to diversity and inclusion. Our expert consultants can help you build a team that delivers results now and in the future. We can help you find the right talent for your needs.

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