How Organizations Are Improving Diversity by 3-4x Using This Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
June 8, 2022
min read

Anonymous CV Toolkit

How can you make a measurable difference to diversity in your organization?

With candidates more scarce than ever before, now is a difficult time to be working on your D&I Strategy Plan.

However, you don't necessarily need to funnel hundreds of new people into your hiring process to see a real, measurable change in diversity.

By tweaking your process to be more inclusive and skills-based, we guarantee that diversity will improve.

Use our repeatable process for finding, hiring and keeping diverse talent… without compromising on quality.

First, what not to do as a diversity strategy: diversity quotas/positive action

Yes, tactics like diversity quotas and positive action will increase diversity - but not without ethical and legal baggage.

Extreme measures like these aren’t necessarily all bad. Diversity quotas - when properly enforced - can result in positive outcomes.

gender diversity on Norwegian boards (chart)

However, given their controversial nature, they’re just not worth the risk.

Diversity isn’t something that can be solved overnight, sustainable improvement over time is going to build better, more inclusive workplaces than quickly shoe-horning minority background hires into your organization.

Reduce bias in your hiring process

You probably have an equal opportunities statement on your open roles right now… but what efforts have you taken to actively reduce bias?

FACT: If your diversity strategy doesn’t address bias, it's not going to change anything.

Everyone is prone to unconscious bias…

There’s a common misconception that bias is something inherently malicious that needs to be ‘defeated’. 

However, this just isn't the reality of how bias occurs.

Whilst there will always be a handful of organizations who knowingly hide their prejudices behind the smokescreen of bias, most unconscious bias is (as the name suggests) unconscious.

Even the most well-intentioned hirers are subject to biases - it's just how our brains work.

This is why even organizations who explicitly advertise their diversity efforts in their job ads don’t tend to be any less biased when it comes to hiring decisions.

In fact, black candidates, for example, will be less likely to ‘whiten’ their CV and therefore stand less of a chance of being hired!

Callback rates for Black candidates (chart)

Unconscious bias might be human nature, but it can still be reduced by changing the way you hire…

Should you invest in bias training?

The short answer here is no.

Bias training doesn’t change real-life outcomes.

Whilst bias training does (albeit momentarily) effectively raise awareness around the impact of bias, a study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that bias training had no positive effects in the average workplace. 

If you’re looking to build a diversity and inclusion strategy that results in measurable change, training might not the wisest thing to spend your budget on.

The body of research around training and its effect on diversity tells us that simply making people aware of their biases doesn't actually change their behaviour.

If we look at one of the biggest studies on behaviour change (the chart below), you can see that companies saw less diversity in terms of black women in management positions, even after training interventions.

Bias training effect on management diversity (chart)

So how can we stop ourselves from doing something we’re unconscious of?

Making hiring fairer and improving diversity isn’t about punishing ourselves for being biased…

It's about designing a process that makes being biased extremely difficult.

You can’t train someone's biases out of them, but you can use a hiring process that reduces the opportunities for this bias to affect decisions.

Start by anonymizing applications

CVs generally contain a lot of information… but not all of it is useful.

For the most part, we tend to skim for anything that ‘jumps out’, whilst subconsciously forming assumptions based on things like names, photos and dates of birth.

How bias affects a CV review
To remove the initial (and arguably most damaging) layer of bias from your hiring process, anonymize any identifying information from applications.

Anonymization should be a necessary component of your diversity recruiting strategy Why? Because it will have an instinct impact on the types of people being shortlisted. 

In one of the earliest trials, orchestras managed to double the number of women making it through auditions just by doing them from behind a curtain. 

Test for skills, not credentials

The more we focus on candidates’ education and experience, the more likely we are to hire people who either look like ourselves or have come from more socioeconomically advantaged backgrounds.

We know that those who gain the most prestigious educations generally go on to gain impressive-sounding experience.

And we also know that socioeconomic conditions play a significant role in determining whether or not someone goes to a top university.

Given that some ethnic minority groups of people are more likely to be in relative poverty than their white counterparts, how can we expect our diversity strategy to be successful whilst still relying on background to hire people?

% of people in relative poverty in UK by ethnicity (chart)

Education and experience aren’t just harmful to diversity, but also fail to find talent. Although not completely useless, they just don’t tell us much about how someone would actually perform on the job.

Predictive validity of assessment methods (chart)
The fairest, most predictive means of assessing talent is by using work samples.

Work samples take parts of a job and turn them into hypothetical tasks.

Rather than making assumptions based on background, work samples test directly for the skills needed for the job.

This means that instead of having to sell their skills candidates can simply demonstrate them in the context they’ll actually be used in.

Example work sample question

(You can see that in addition to the skills needed for the job, we were also testing for transparency, one of our values).

Here at Applied, we build work samples based on the skills (and values) needed for the job.

By starting out with 6-8 core skills we’re looking for, we can ensure every question is purposeful and fair.

To create work samples:

  • Decide on the skills you’re looking for
  • Think of realistic scenarios that would test some of these skills
  • Turn them into hypothetical tasks by asking what candidates what they would do
  • Give yourself criteria to score against
  • Get colleagues involved in scoring

Whilst some writing-based tasks can be simulated directly (like writing an email, for example), you can also present candidates with bigger, more strategic problems to solve and ask them what their approach might look like.

In order to make objective decisions, you’ll need to give yourself some basic criteria to score candidates against.

This doesn’t need to be anything overly detailed, a simple 1-5 star scale and a few bullet points around what a good, mediocre and poor answer might include is enough to get started.

Below, you can see what reviewing looks like within the Applied platform…

Applied reviewer screen (screenshot)

Scoring criteria is also essential in order to use reviewer panels - which should be an integral part of your diversity and inclusion strategy.

Having three team members independently score candidates’ answers will result in fairer, more accurate scores.

Studies have shown that collective judgment is generally more accurate and any individual biases will be averaged out.

Once you add up your panel’s scores, you’ll be able to build an anonymous, bias-free candidate leaderboard.

Candidate leaderboard example

At Applied, we use 3-5 work samples to anonymously test candidates instead of CVs…

If you’re not ready to depart from CVs entirely, we’d recommend using them alongside your usual process. This means you’ll be able to quantify candidates' skills, even if you’re still looking at background.

Benefits of work samples

Are work samples inclusive if they rely on written answers?

For some roles - such as a copywriter - writing skills will be absolutely necessary for the job itself. 

However, for the vast majority of jobs, writing skills won’t be necessary. For these cases, be sure to let candidates know that they are not being assessed on their spelling, grammar etc and that they are free use bullet points.

Structure your interviews

The more casual and unstructured your interviews are, the more they become a test of how ‘likeable’ someone is.

And this likability will be heavily dictated by unconscious biases.

Turning your interviews into a predictive science is going to not only allow you to reliably identify the best talent, but also ensure diversity isn’t hampered.

Interviewers may phrase questions differently depending on the identity of the candidate.

An investigation into why female entrepreneurs continue to receive less funding than their male counterparts found that venture capitalists posed different types of questions to male and female entrepreneurs.

They tended to ask men questions about the potential for gains and women about the potential for losses.

How VCs frame questions based on gender (chart)

This is why making interviews uniform is so important - so that candidates can be fairly compared against the same criteria.

If you’re going to move away from background and credential-based hiring as part of your diversity strategy, we’d also recommend asking forward-looking questions, as opposed to your typical ‘tell me a time when’ question.

Instead, take the same scenarios and pose them hypothetically ‘ what would you do…’

Full transparency: we often find that hires are resistant to this change. They believe that past behaviour is reflective of how someone might behave in the future and that asking how someone would do something hypothetically is less predictive.

However, whilst someone’s past behaviour might provide some insight, we have to assume that candidates are being completely truthful.

Anchoring down on past experience also overlooks anyone who may have the skills, but not the relevant experience. 

And if you want your diversity strategy to yield real-life results, you’ll have to assess people in new ways if you want to access new talent.

Experience-based questions

  • Focused on experience
  • Candidates might not have encountered the situation
  • Depends on how their previous company worked

Forward-looking questions

  • Looking for potential
  • Doesn't necessitate prior experience or lying.
  • Shows how candidates would think and act in the role

Turning questions into work simulations

Hire for values instead of culture

Are you currently assessing candidates’ culture fit? If so, what does the term ‘culture’ mean to you?

The core issue with culture fit is that when culture is perceived to be a strict set of characteristics that people have to fit into, you’re likely to exclude those who don’t reflect the dominant demographic of your organisation.

Culture fit is fundamentally a test of how like your team a candidate is - which only perpetuates any diversity gaps.

And as you can see from the study below, culture fit is also fairly poor when it comes to predicting how well someone will perform in the job and how long they’ll stick around.

Measuring the impact of culture fit (chart)
Whilst many organisations have switched to ‘culture add’ - what someone can add to your culture - we believe the most effective diversity recruiting strategy is to pivot away from culture entirely and look at mission/values alignment instead.

This is essentially a test of:

  • Does this candidate believe in our mission as much as we do?
  • Are they aligned on the ways we work day-to-day to get there?

Instead of conducting an entire interview round to assess mission/values alignment, try treating them as if they’re just additional skills needed for the job.

You don’t need to assign every one of your values to every role you hire for, just pick the most relevant two or three.

If you include these values in your review guides, you’ll be able to identify candidates who genuinely embody the ways in which your team works - rather than just repeating your values back to you. 

Below you can see how we built our value of ‘empathy’ into a review guide.

Example review guide


Starting your recruitment process with a diverse pool is vital.

The fewer candidates from minority backgrounds or disadvantaged groups there are, the more they’ll stand out and the less likely they are to be hired.

For example, studies have shown that when there’s just one woman in the finalist pool, their chances of being hired are statistically zero.

Finalist pools vs hiring decisions (chart)

But with more roles live than ever before, how do you build sourcing into your diversity recruiting strategy?

Don’t be afraid to sell your roles

Commitment to improving diversity is one of the most important factors in attracting minority background candidates...

But 62% of candidates say they find it hard to find any evidence of commitment.

If you’re going to be following any of the steps above to actively reduce bias - be sure to communicate these efforts to candidates!

Selling a job is no different to selling any other kind of product - it has to fit the market you’re selling to.

If you want to hire a more diverse array of people, you’re probably going to have to open up your jobs to a wider audience.

You’re not just selling a role, you’re selling the lifestyle, identity, flexibility and salary that goes along with it.

Use inclusive language 

The language you use in your job ads will subconsciously signal who should apply.

Using excessive gendered language, jargon or industry buzzwords will likely attract a certain type of candidate.

To diversify your candidate pool, try removing gendered words and phrases from your job ads. 

Generally, feminine-coded language won't dramatically decrease the volume of men applying, but masculine language will deter women. So, either aim for neutral or feminine-coded job ads.

Gender coding effect on diversity of hires (chart)

Here are a few of the most common masculine-coded terms:

  1. Lead
  2. Analyse
  3. Competitive
  4. Active
  5. Confident

And here are a few of the most common feminine-coded terms:

  1. Support
  2. Responsible
  3. Understanding
  4. Dependable
  5. Committed

Psst… We built our Job Description Tool specifically to diversity-optimize your job ads.

Applied job description tool

Use specialist job boards to fill diversity gaps

Different job boards will bring different pools of candidates.

Given how much they can cost, you’ll want to make sure you use them wisely.

If you’re looking to fill specific demographic gaps as part of your diversity and inclusion strategy, then look into specific job boards.

Here are a few to help get you started:

Track and report on diversity

Measuring the success of your diversity strategy is the final - and often most neglected - piece of the puzzle.

Although not necessarily the easiest thing to pull off, a process for tracking diversity will enable you to prove the value of your efforts and make genuine change in your organisation.

If you use our scoring methods shared above, you’ll have all the data you need to see which parts of the process cause diversity drop-offs and tweak them accordingly.

If you start with a diverse pool, you’ll want to see that this diversity is maintained throughout the assessment process. 

When it comes to getting maximum ROI from your sourcing, start by tracking your job postings (ideally using a UTM code).

If one job board brings a more diverse set of candidates (and better quality candidates, as you’ll be able to tell from your scores), then double down!

Most organisations we work with start off with no diversity data whatsoever. Sounds like you? The first thing you’ll want to do is start asking candidates for basic information via an Equal Opportunities Form.

Whilst this should never be mandatory, you’ll still need to collect diversity data to be able to gauge whether or not diversity is actually improving over time.

Applied diversity tracking

Diversity recruiting strategy: key takeaways 

  • Anonymize applications
  • Test for skills using work samples
  • Give yourself criteria to score against
  • Structure your interviews 
  • Use inclusive language in your job ads
  • Try specialist job boards to fill diversity gaps
  • Track diversity using an equal opportunities form

Applied is the essential platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymized applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

Push back against conventional hiring wisdom with a smarter solution: book in a demo