Bias in the Recruitment Process Breeds Bias in the Workplace

I’m proud to have recently shared the stage with a talented and diverse group of panellists at our Women in Technology Australia event, where Hays hosted a panel session called “Bias in the recruitment process breeds bias in the workplace”.

Bias in the Recruitment Process Breeds Bias in the Workplace

I don’t consider myself a woman in tech. Instead, I am a woman who is very interested in tech and who spends my days (and many nights; the joys of a global role) sourcing and identifying technology that will make Hays even better at what we do, which is changing people’s lives by supporting them to achieve their career ambitions, or to hire great people to work with them.

What I am though, and always have been, is a passionate believer in equality.

I was stunned when I moved to Australia in the late 80s and saw that there were still jobs advertised in the paper for the role of “Girl Friday”. Sadly, I think that many of the same biases of race, age and of course gender still pervade our culture. I would have hoped back then, that by 2017 we wouldn’t need a “women in anything” event – but I’m grateful to have been part of Women in Technology Australia to debate the issue, share my experiences and hopefully inspire change!

Early on in my career at Hays, which included a stint running L&D, I realised that we were in a unique position to influence change, because we are witness to thousands of selection and hiring decisions every day. So we train our consultants very carefully to spot and deflect bias using informed reasoning and a focus on compatibility of skills and culture fit rather than other factors.

We’ve also conducted a lot of research into diversity over the years to help inform our customers. A piece of research we conducted a couple of years ago saw us gather some evidence on the way hiring decisions are made, as in my experience that was where unconscious bias actually manifests itself.

Using a fictitious vacancy, we asked respondents to review and comment on a CV. The CV they all reviewed was exactly the same – except that 50% of them got a candidate called Susan, and 50% got a candidate called Simon.

Despite believing that Susan had the better technical skills, larger organisations were more likely to interview Simon. In organisations with less than 500 staff this interview bias almost disappeared.

When we looked at affinity bias, not surprisingly, female respondents rated Susan higher than Simon, while males were the opposite. And yet, both genders were significantly more likely to interview Simon rather than Susan. So while men prefer male candidates and women prefer female candidates, both men and women who responded were more likely to shortlist a male candidate.

Our panel debate echoed this with experiences of gender inequality seemingly variable in larger organisations where policies and procedures were in place, compared to smaller organisations perhaps being more nimble at actively sourcing and attracting diverse shortlists. The importance of employer brand should not be forgotten, with companies needing to communicate the positives of their culture and values to attract all forms of diversity.

The findings of Hays’ 2017 Gender Diversity report, launched on International Women’s Day, disappointingly show that we still have some way to go.

When it comes to flexible working (a key factor in achieving gender balance in the workplace), female respondents said that opting to work flexibly is a career-limiting move for women (73%) more so than for men (51%), while the men believed it was more limiting for them (58%) than it was for women (47%). So clearly there’s still some stigma there for males considering flexible working.

Our audience and panellists agreed, noting the negative connotations associated with part-time work and the need to more actively promote it for suitable roles. The focus should be more on flexible working for everyone, with outcomes based work and project work being ideal for this. For BAU work, job sharing and part-time options could likely bring more women into traditionally male-dominated functions.

The debate then turned to how we can manage the downfalls of flexible working. Remote or home working teams can easily stay connected with the likes of Slack keeping communication open between teams on and offsite. Managers can foster teamwork and engagement by ensuring physical presence at certain key weekly meetings – as Lina Patel said, her team uses rituals in (part of agile methodology) which are non-negotiable. Personally, I’m lucky enough to work in a very inclusive environment. In fact before they joined Hays 10 years ago, our CEO and CTO both worked for some pioneering women in tech at a computer services company, Xansa. Dame Stephanie Shirley was the founder and later Dame Hilary Cropper was the CEO and Chairman and from the outset, Xansa championed women in work by offering home-based and part-time employment to working mothers who had computing skills. Pretty pioneering in the early 60s.

At Hays our culture – in my 30 years anyway - has always been such that the thought that anyone in the company would be viewed or measured based on anything other than their merit is pretty hard to imagine. But we are far from perfect!

To sum it up, the panel debate was most certainly thought provoking and just shows there’s always more to be done; thanks to my co-panellists Gavin Whyte, Head of Data Science at Deloitte, Swati Singh, General Manager Technology at Mirvac, Lina Patel, COO at Code for Australia and Kendra Vant, Principal Data Scientist at SEEK, all of who shared inspiring insights so openly with a buzzing and positive audience.

About this Author

Jacky Carter

Jacky Carter, Group Digital Engagement Director

Jacky joined Hays UK in 1987 and commenced her career in recruitment having worked previously in Retail Management and Learning and Development with J. Sainsbury plc.

Initially working as a consultant recruiting across the finance and accounting sectors, Jacky transferred to Australia with Hays in 1989. Since then, she has held several management roles within the organisation including state-based and national operational roles, marketing and advertising, including launching one of the company’s first websites in the late 90s and building key client relationships for the business.

Since 2002, Jacky has been responsible for driving the Hays brand across the APAC region to achieve a market leading position through building strong awareness, great engagement and a program of high value thought leadership products. In addition, Jacky has been a key contributor and leader to the innovation and change team across the Hays global network.

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