If your hiring practices are having an undue ‘adverse impact’—a disproportionately negative effect on potential candidates because of their gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, or sexual orientation—then you’re breaking the law, unless you have a justifiable, job-related reason.
Every applicant should have an equal chance to do their best in your selection process. However, we all have different skills, different values, and different preferences. This means that some degree of adverse impact will inevitably exist in every recruitment process. The question is whether it is defendable. If not, you need to modify your process to minimise adverse impact. Only then can you match the right people to the right roles, for the right reasons. Here’s how to do it:
1. Conduct a thorough job analysis.
A high level of adverse impact will occur if the criteria that you use to select candidates are not related to job performance. If you’re not very clear about the qualities you require, unconscious bias will creep into your selection process.
2. Undertake a validation study.
Analyse the results of your current recruitment practice to identify the level of adverse impact that is occurring. Are you recruiting a diverse mix of candidates or are your candidates predominantly from one group? A validation study provides data and evidence that will help you to evaluate the effectiveness and fairness of your selection process.
3. Use valid and justifiable assessments.
Psychometric tests help to reduce adverse impact because they’re objective. However, different people will always perform differently in any test. For example, younger people tend to perform better in concentration tests than older people; men tend to perform better than women in numerical reasoning tests; women tend to perform better in verbal reasoning tests. So assessments have certain biases. It isn’t possible to do anything about this. The answer is to combine different job-related tests to minimise bias and adverse impact. For example, combining numerical and verbal reasoning tests will help to counteract the bias towards each gender.
4. Ensure your testing process is consistently fair.
This means that groups of test takers should not be disadvantaged in their access to your assessments and they should receive exactly the same testing experience, no matter what device they use to take your tests. Every aspect of your selection process must be consistently fair and dependable for every candidate.
5. Broaden your attraction strategy to include different groups.
Every employer needs to reach out to different audiences and encourage individuals with different experiences and different backgrounds to apply. Don’t restrict your hiring to certain universities and ensure your job advertisements and promotions don’t contain images or descriptions that might alienate potential applicant groups.
6. Standardise your job interviews and assessment centres.
It is human nature to like people who are similar to us; however, this can lead to unconscious bias and adverse impact in recruitment. To overcome this, hiring managers (and assessors in assessment centres) should be trained in equal opportunities, diversity, employment law, interview skills, and avoiding unconscious bias. Interviewers should ask structured, competency-based questions that probe for the desired attitudes and behaviours.
7. Always keep improving.
You can monitor the level of adverse impact in your organisation with the ‘four-fifths rule’. This states that the success rate for members of any particular group—such as males, females, or ethnic groups—should not be less than 80 percent of any other group’s success rate. Check your selection process at each stage, to confirm that a diverse mix of candidates is progressing, and aim to continuously improve the fairness of your hiring.
Through these seven steps, minimising adverse impact will provide three clear advantages. Firstly, it will help you to recruit the right people for each role—those who have the job-related competencies that you have identified as important. Secondly, bringing equality and inclusion into your recruitment process will enhance your employer brand and broaden your appeal to a diverse range of applicants, who could potentially improve the performance of your organisation. Finally, creating a valid and justifiable selection process, with documented evidence at each stage, will help to protect your organisation against lawsuits and discrimination claims.