By Tracy Tsai, ACC, CPC – Leadership and Career Coach
As you’ve probably heard by now, study after study shows that a diverse and inclusive workplace leads to better business outcomes and positively affects employee well-being. It’s not surprising then that so many companies are trying to hire diverse talent and embrace DEI initiatives.
By the same token, job candidates are also increasingly scrutinizing their potential employer’s commitment to diversity. Seventy-six percent of employees and job seekers said a diverse workforce was important when evaluating companies and job offers.
With so many companies touting their commitment to DEI efforts, the question for candidates becomes, “How do I know if this company is truly diverse and inclusive, or if it’s just lip service?”
The selection process is often a candidate’s first impression of a company, and it is a way for them to evaluate whether your company is truly “walking the talk” when it comes to DEI. By engaging in an inclusive hiring process, you increase your chances of choosing the best candidate for the role. In addition, it showcases your commitment to DEI and differentiates you from the competition.
How can your company create a more DEI-conscious selection process?
A candidate’s first view into an organization starts the moment they read the job description. To create an inclusive job posting, try to eliminate the use of biased language, such as words associated with specific genders. For example, research by Iris Bohnet at HBS shows that masculine-coded adjectives like “competitive” or “dominant” can dissuade women from applying. Similarly, avoid using statements that perpetuate stereotypes or jargon that can make people from a different culture feel excluded.
Limiting the number of listed qualifications to only those that are necessary for the role also helps encourage a more diverse applicant pool. For example, women are less likely than men to apply for a job where they do not meet all listed requirements. Consider whether advanced degrees or minimum years of experience are truly essential to success in the role.
A job description can also be a good place to highlight your company’s DEI efforts. Including a link to your company’s DEI statement or initiatives can help a candidate better understand your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
With most interviews being conducted remotely due the pandemic, candidates don’t have the benefit of walking around your office. That means that the individuals on the interview panel may be a candidate’s only window into the level of diverse representation in an organization.
In a recent survey conducted by SurveyMonkey, in partnership with Living Corporate, only 34% of candidates said they met with a diverse panel of interviewers. It is especially problematic when a company that touts its diversity presents a candidate with a homogenous interview panel. Diverse interviewers also benefit the company, as each may provide a different perspective that together creates a richer assessment of the candidate.
The interview process should also provide the candidate with some visibility into the diverse leadership of a company. For example, highlighting the successes of a woman COO will go a long way toward reassuring female candidates that this is an environment that believes in advancing women. If this is an area of improvement your company is actively working on, be prepared to discuss any plans that may be in place to address it.
All employees involved in the interview and selection process should receive ongoing training on how to conduct a fair and inclusive interview. We all have unconscious biases, so even the most experienced hiring managers may be guilty of this during an interview. The goal is to be aware of what our biases are and not let them affect our ability to hire a great candidate.
An example is the tendency of interviewers to favor candidates who are more “like them,” such as being an alum of the same school or growing up in the same area. Unconscious bias training can help interviewers base their hiring decisions only on factors that are related to the role. If “likeability” does directly affect success in the role, consider explicitly scoring it alongside other skills and citing behaviors to justify scores.
Interviewers should also be trained to ask open-ended questions, which give candidates an opportunity to showcase their capabilities. In contrast, those that result in “yes/no” answers are often leading questions that are focused primarily on experience vs. potential. For example, an open-ended question would be, “How would you approach doing ___?” while a close-ended question would be “Have you done ___?”
An inclusive interview process is one that gives every candidate the same experience. Asking each applicant the same set of questions helps to reduce bias in the interview process. Select questions that are directly related to the definition of success for the role. Questions that aren’t focused on performance-related factors could inadvertently introduce unconscious bias into the interview.
Skills-based tests or case studies are another way to create a more inclusive interview process. Instead of relying on a candidate to provide their own assessment of their ability, interviewers can ask the candidate to solve a problem similar to one they might face in the role so they can objectively evaluate their skills against other candidates. This also gives candidates with untraditional backgrounds an opportunity to prove themselves.
In addition, consider providing interviewers with a scorecard with clear criteria upon which to evaluate and rank candidates.
With video interviews becoming the norm during the pandemic, implicit biases can arise when candidates essentially “bring” the interviewer into their homes. For example, an interviewer may notice details in a candidate’s physical background that could influence their hiring decisions (e.g., a “messy” room might lead someone to make assumptions about the candidate’s organizational skills). Less tech-savvy candidates are also at a disadvantage, as video calls may not have been the norm in their previous role.
Companies can help even the playing field by providing candidates with video call instructions and best practices ahead of the interview. Some companies also provide virtual backgrounds so that a candidate’s surroundings do not inadvertently become a factor. Hiring managers may also want to conduct first-round interviews by phone, rather than video.
A negative hiring process affects not only the candidate, but also a company’s reputation. 69% of job seekers share negative candidate experiences with their friends and networks. Experience surveys gather feedback and insights directly from candidates, whether or not they received a job offer, and can be a useful tool for companies looking to improve their hiring process. Include questions in the survey that measure whether a candidate felt the interview process was fair and inclusive.
Since DEI is an increasingly important factor in a highly competitive market for talent, remember that the hiring process provides a key indicator of what a career at your company would be like. While the selection and interview process is only one part of creating an inclusive culture, implementing some of these best practices has the dual benefit of helping you hire the best candidates AND highlighting your organization’s broader commitment to a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment.