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09-06-2021

De-biasing recruitment to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive

This article was written by Ileana Boyes (She/Her) a Junior Consultant at BVA Nudge Unit UK.

Image credit: Freepik

To celebrate Pride month this year, we at the BVA Nudge Unit want to promote ways in which behavioural science can help de-bias the recruitment process to be more inclusive, levelling the playing field for candidates of various identities and orientations.  

Despite there being an increasing acceptance that employees need to bring their whole selves to work, we are still far from a world in which inclusive workplaces are the norm. In 2018, Stonewall (Europe’s biggest LGBTQ+ right charity) reported that more than a third of LGBTQ+ staff (35%) have hidden that they are LGBTQ+ at work for fear of discrimination. On top of this, 18% of LGBTQ+ job seekers surveyed had been discriminated against specifically due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year. Unsurprisingly, this translates to over a third of LGBTQ+ people on the job market reporting feeling worried about harassment and discrimination in the workplace, with one Canadian study finding that LGBTQ+ individuals consequently have lower salary expectations. Clearly, we have work to do.

The discourse about creating more LGBTQ+ friendly workplaces often jumps straight to how to foster inclusion for LGBTQ+ colleagues already in the workplace. Ensuring psychological safety (being in a work environment that fosters the ability for all employees to feel secure and take risks at work) and inclusion for every employee is paramount, but before we get to that point, we have to make sure that everyone has the same opportunity to enter the workforce in the first place.  

At each step of the recruitment process where a decision is made – by the applicant or by the organisation – there are environmental factors that can impact these choices. The recruitment process can therefore be filled with unintended bias that negatively impacts LGBTQ+ candidates (and, indeed, disadvantaged candidates from other groups). So, how can we counteract this? 

Attraction:

Employers have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment and inclusion from the very first touchpoint with prospective candidates: the job ad.

The power of language in job ads has been widely demonstrated. Within the BVA Nudge Unit, our work with BNP Paribas has shown that men and women respond to different words in job specifications, with male applicants increasing by 55% when the job ad was written by a man, for vacancies that had previously attracted mostly female applicants. The principle rings true for all groups, and may have much farther-reaching implications for LGBTQ+ candidates and other minority groups. It cannot therefore be understated how important it is to test recruitment materials and reveal biases that could be hindering applicants.

Screening and Interview:

At screening, applications are often reviewed very quickly (recruiters reportedly can spend as little as 10 seconds reviewing a CV). When decisions are made quickly like these, they are made by system one  processes, which relies predominantly on biases and mental shortcuts. At interview, affinity bias leads interviewers to be drawn to candidates that mirror their own selves, whilst status quo bias results in hires who fit the mould of the outgoing employee. Our government estimates that just 5-7% of the populations of England and Wales identify as LGB (the research on this is limited and excludes transgender people), meaning LGBTQ+ candidates form a much smaller sub-section and are at significant risk from these biases at screening and interview. If you do not have LGBTQ+ employees in your organisation, you are less likely to be drawn to those candidates in interview.

So, how we mitigate these biases? Well, beyond the bread and butter of anonymising aspects of applications and blind screening, as well as introducing objective measures of performance such as psychometrics, organisations can create a framework with which to evaluate candidates’ interview performance, implementing a semi-structured process that will reduce the subjective differences between candidates. Consistent questions should be asked between candidates that test competencies, relating directly to what is required in-role.

Who interviews the candidate – as well as the role they play – should also be considered. Candidates should be assessed by more than one interviewer, who should themselves represent different demographics and backgrounds where possible. Interviewers should assign a score to each response and be provided with guidance on evaluating responses with respect to the scoring system to maintain consistency between assessments. Additionally, in order to mitigate the effects of confirmation bias (the tendency to make a decision based on existing beliefs), interviewers should evaluate performance separately before discussing.

Selection:

Best practice at the selection stage is to involve someone who has not yet been part of the recruitment process to be part of the decision-making wash up. The value of this  practice is that this person can bring more impartiality and objectivity to the decision, having not met the candidates themselves, but being able to review purely how they performed through the assessments. 

Post-recruitment:

Once a candidate has been hired, there is a final step that is often overlooked by employers: the review. Taking stock from both internal and external sources (i.e., recruiters and candidates) and collecting insights for optimising the process can be a valuable resource. For example, collecting feedback from candidates – both rejected and selected – can help shed light on where the process might be letting down candidates. One 2015 study highlighted that making jokes about LGBTQ+ people was the most widely reported issue faced at recruitment, highlighting the need for a post-recruitment window review – without this, important information is lost, along with the opportunity to create real and significant positive change.


While we hope to inspire organisations to use behavioural science to make their recruitment processes more inclusive this Pride month, we believe diversity and inclusion should be a core focus for businesses year-round.

Aside from the obvious moral benefits, the business case for diverse teams is becoming increasingly robust for companies, with a McKinsey report demonstrating that companies with more diverse executive leadership in the top quartile are 25% more likely to perform above average financially, compared to those in the bottom quartile.

If you’re wondering how you can implement some of these ideas into your own systems – or indeed develop your D&I processes even further using behavioural science – we’d love to hear from you. Why not get in touch with us at contact@bvanudgeunit.com

Ileana Boyes

Junior Consultant, BVA Nudge Unit UK

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