Is your selection process hindering diversity? – London workshop

The second workshop of our three part series brought employers together in London to discuss how to reduce bias in the selection process.

We hosted our second London Inclusion 360 roundtable on the ominous date of Friday 13th, but luck was on our side as the room was filled with employers who all contributed to a fantastic session. Attendees included Heads of Talent, Global Talent Partners, a People and Culture Manager and a Graduate Scheme Talent Resourcer, with everyone also championing and driving diversity internally within their businesses.

In the last session, held in March, we discussed how to attract diverse talent and create an inclusive candidate journey, today we look at the selection process.

Our Journey

The session kicked off with a brief overview of Harvey Nash's journey to creating a more inclusive culture and becoming the first recruitment company to achieve EY's National Equality Standard (NES). Amanda Faull, Head of Inclusion 360 at Harvey Nash, explained how our 10 year history of leading diversity initiatives externally influenced our behaviours and how we support and develop our own talent. We now see ourselves as sitting at the table with other employers learning and sharing and bringing back ideas into our business through Inclusion 360.

Examples of how we ensure diversity is across the board at Harvey Nash and how we practice what we preach were shared by Rahul Patel, a senior consultant and Inclusion 360 Ambassador. It's an iterative process but some small changes have already had a profound impact including mandatory unconscious bias training, advertising roles internally and promoting from within, a new ATS (Applicant Tracking System) and metrics for our own hiring processes to understand any impact on diversity.

Rahul explained, "we know that we need to challenge the traditional selection and assessment process in order to find the very best and most diverse talent, however this is easier said than done." Clearly, everyone in the room felt the same way and were eager to discuss this, and much more.

You can't always trust your own judgement

A quick discussion around the room revealed that almost everyone relies heavily on phone and face-to-face interviews as part of the first stage of selection; many of which are informal or inconsistent. This has huge implications for any candidate, but particularly those that might not fit the mould of the interviewer. Paul Rein, a Business Psychologist at Harvey Nash, then led the rest of the session, analysing and scrutinising different methods to challenge traditional processes in recruitment.

Paul began by quite literally opening up the brain, and more specifically how it takes shortcuts that influence our judgements. Heuristics show how this happens, the associations we make internally are not challenged by ourselves enough and this is how unconscious bias develops and manifests in our minds. Dan Ariely's Ted Talk on this is well worth a watch, as it shows just how our minds can negatively influence decisions.

Did you know: it is 193 times more likely to hire an ethnic minority if there are more than one in the shortlist (irrespective of the size of the candidate pool) and 79 times more likely to hire a woman if there are at least two in the shortlist (HBR, 2016)

Interviews: The Gold Standard?

We have always regarded interviews as the holy grail of judgement, but is it truly the best format to evaluate someone? We know that unconscious bias can have all kinds of negative impacts, so perhaps the old-hat method is now finally outdated? Is this truly the best way to be inclusive in the modern world?

Paul laid out the countless problems with interviews:

  • They rely on the 'gut-feel' of a hiring manager and how is that a fair assessment?
  • Competencies, skills, values, cultural fit etc. are more rigorously inferred from over data. So many times, the group stated, that they would hear the phrase 'not culturally right' to be used as an excuse, when in actual fact the interviewer just does not like the candidate.
  • Being good at interviews does not equal being good at the job, think of 'The Dark Triad', psychopaths, narcissists and Machiavellians can interview very well!
  • An interviewer's self-serving bias. Paul stated that perhaps this was a bit of a stretch, but, the more we ignore a candidate's demographics, the more present they'll be in our minds - see the white bear test
  • The final point is one that is very obvious but probably disregarded a lot. The interviewer could be: tired, hungry, anxious etc. - which will only have a negative effect on the interview.

One member of the group stated that they have removed the 'in a room' interview, and replaced it with a white board exercise, giving the candidate a challenge and time to work through the solution.

One attendee suggested it might be helpful to introduce a debrief session after an interview with an impartial mediator. This enables the hiring manager to air out any biases they feel might be clouding their judgement against the person, and often, once verbalised you can understand where this connection is coming from and neutralise it.

Neurodiversity - a lot of world class talent is being unfairly assessed

Saraswati Truong, founder of Radical Intelligence, then took the floor to discuss 'neurodiversity'. She spoke of the desire for celebrating and valuing difference of thought, which as we know is integral to a successful business. Neurodiverse conditions include ADHD, Asperger's, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.

Neurodiverse people see things in a totally unique way and are often much more able to positively disrupt a business, whilst also possessing an entrepreneurial spirit that can truly change the playing field within an organisation. We know at Harvey Nash that these people can absolutely thrive within a technology role, but they are not and should not be limited to these kinds of roles. So, it is a wonder why they are assessed in the same way as every other candidate, especially when an 'old school' style interview does not enable them to be their true selves.

In education, we exhibit only one style of assessment, our exams are essentially a regurgitated memory test. This often happens in employment and during the recruitment process. The old form of interviewing needs to be shaken up...

AI and machine learning technologies are both starting to naturally inch into interviews, this could be a game-changer, so long as the person building the bots does so and adjusts for their own biases.

Ultimately, most employers are trying to fit a round peg into a square hole and Saraswati explained, "They need to give people possibilities." She's come to terms with her own disabilities and no longer sees her failure to attain certain roles as a personal fault, but a problem with the systems; that's why she set up her business to give opportunities to radical thinkers where they would otherwise not succeed. Hiring managers are missing out on this great talent and need to be educated much more on neurodiversity and the methods of selection that allow them to bring out their best and not their worst.

If you've got something to share or would like to join us next time, get in touch: and follow us on social @Inclusion360HN / #HNinclusion.

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