Eight ways to ensure diversity initiatives are fair

After a BBC radio presenter claimed he was sacked for being a white man, is positive discrimination a fair solution to employers' diversity issues? Dr Achim Preuss, managing director of assessment provider cut-e, looks at eight ways organisations can ensure their selection processes are fair to everyone.

Diversity and the issue of positive discrimination at the BBC were thrown into the spotlight again this month when the presenter and award-winning comedian Jon Holmes claimed he was sacked for being a white man.

Holmes, who had appeared on Radio 4's The Now Show for 18 years, says he was fired because the programme was being recast with "more women and diversity".

It follows a leaked memo earlier this year which appeared to show a desire to recruit new presenters for The One Show from a particular age group and ethnic minorities.

Diversity is desirable because it can help you to better understand and meet the needs of diverse customers.

But positively discriminating to recruit a diverse workforce isn't the answer. Instead, recruiters should implement measures that are fair and which focus on someone's ability to do the job.

Diversity and selection resources

What is the difference between positive action and positive discrimination?

Positive action: underrepresented groups

Selecting the best candidate for a job

In recruitment, two things to avoid are "adverse impact" and bias. Employers are not allowed to apply any requirement or condition that disadvantages people or makes them ineligible for a job, without a justifiable reason.

Otherwise it could constitute discrimination. For example, if your applicant pool is 50% female and 50% male, you should expect to see comparable percentages being progressed at each stage of your selection process and then receiving job offers.

If this isn't the case, your selection process may be having an adverse impact on some of your candidates.

Beware of biased assessments

Bias means treating certain groups unfairly. A biased assessment test will predict job performance differently for different groups of people.

This means that individuals from different ethnic or socio-economic groups - who may actually have the same ability or skill set - will score differently on a biased test.

For example, a test that asks about playing polo might be biased against candidates from lower socio-economic groups.

So how can you ensure a fair selection process, which doesn't disadvantage potential applicants or discriminate against any group? Here are eight steps to ensure fair testing.

1. Do a thorough job analysis

Conduct a thorough and objective job analysis to determine the specific behaviours, skills, knowledge and characteristics that are essential for doing the job well.

Then identify job-related selection criteria that are relevant to the requirements of the role. Exclude all criteria that are not job-related.

2. Make sure your assessments are objective

Use valid and justifiable assessments that measure your selection criteria. 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).

Do not disadvantage different groups of test takers in how they access your assessments. Test-taking conditions should be the same for all candidates. For example, tests must work equally well on different mobile devices.

Importantly, test scores should be the minimum requirement that applicants need to fulfil. A high test score doesn't necessarily mean that one applicant will perform better in the role than another.

Testing should simply help you to sift out applicants who fall below a certain threshold and who therefore do not fit your selection criteria. All those who meet your minimum requirements should stay in your selection process.

3. Take care with recruitment advertising

Ensure your job advertisements don't contain images or descriptions that might alienate potential applicants.

4. Train managers

Train hiring managers in equal opportunities, diversity, employment law, interview skills and avoiding unconscious bias.

Ensure they understand your selection criteria and that they don'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.

5. Be consistent

Conduct consistent job interviews and assessment centres. Probe only for the desired attitudes and behaviours.

Check that interviewers and assessors are not simply recruiting people from similar backgrounds, or with similar experiences, to themselves. Try to have two individuals conducting interviews, where possible.

6. Give unbiased feedback

When rejecting candidates, give reasons that are based purely on the job requirements.

7. Monitor relevant data

Monitor candidate aspects such as gender, ethnicity and age at each stage of your selection process to check for adverse impact.

Apply the "four-fifths rule". This states that the success rate for members of any particular group should not be less than 80% of any other group's success rate.

8. Check performance

Conduct validation research to confirm that the people who perform well in your assessments go on to perform well in the role. Keep documented evidence at each stage, to help you if a legal challenge arises.

By using only criteria that impacts on job performance, fair testing will help you to identify the best candidates for your roles and it will bring equality and inclusion into your recruitment process.

That way, you not only recruit without bias and adverse impact, you can improve the performance of your organisation and enhance your employer brand.