Diversity Recruitment: Your End-to-End Manual (based on science)

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
April 9, 2021
 min read

How do you improve diversity through recruitment, without compromising on quality or resorting to quotas/positive discrimination?

Below, we’ll outline exactly how we hire at Applied - and every step of the process can be replicated without our platform and without spending a penny.

Does it work? Well, organisations using this process report up to 4x attraction and selection of ethnically diverse candidates - with a 9/10 average candidate experience rating.

What do we mean by ‘diversity recruitment’?

Improving diversity requires a long term commitment, it can’t be fixed within a matter of months.

The diversity recruitment strategies we’ll talk you through below won’t necessarily guarantee hires from minority backgrounds every time.

However, you will see steady progress over time.

So, when we say, ‘diversity recruitment’, what we really mean (at least here at Applied) is a fairer, more inclusive process that removes biases that would usually prevent minority background candidates from being attracted/hired.

What doesn’t work: unconscious bias training

Before exploring the strategies that have been proven to increase diversity, it’s worth taking stock of what doesn’t work.

Valued at nearly $8 billion annually, it’s safe to say that unconscious bias training is big business.

However, when it comes to actual outcomes, there’s no evidence that unconscious bias training can lead to a lasting, significant shift in behaviour.

Whilst participants biases are reduced immediately following a session, the effect seems to wear off after around 8 weeks.

A study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that bias training had no positive effects in the average workplace. 

Another study found that for some positions, training actually decreased diversity (chart below).

Bias training effects on management diversity

You can read all of the research around unconscious bias training here.

Why doesn’t diversity training work? Because it attempts to de-bias individuals.

We all have biases, it’s human nature. 

And no amount of training will change that.

If it is at all possible to de-bias a person, it would take a tremendous amount of time and money to do.

It is, however, possible to de-bias a process... 

And if you de-bias your recruitment process, diversity will improve.

Proven, data-backed diversity recruitment strategies


Write inclusive job descriptions

How you choose to word your job descriptions can have a direct impact on the diversity of applicants.

If you’re concentrating on diversity hiring, you’ll want to make job descriptions one of the first things you address.

The diversity of your initial candidate pool matters -  studies have shown that when there’s just one woman in the finalist pool, their chances of being hired are statistically zero.

Likelihood of woman being hired vs candidate pool diversity

When we read a job description, we’re (often subconsciously) assessing whether or not the role is a good match for us.

Certain words or phrases cause candidates to qualify them sleeves out of they feel that they wouldn’t fit in.

Over-use of masculine-coded language, for example, will put women off applying.

So, if you use too many of these in your job description, you’re effectively signalling that you’re looking for a male candidate.

Examples of masculine-coded language

  • Analytical
  • Autonomous
  • Independent
  • Leader

Examples of feminine-coded language

  • Committed
  • Dependable
  • Supportive
  • Trustworthy
Key takeaway: Aim to write either feminine or neutral-coded job descriptions.

Note: the effect of gendered language isn’t as strong when it comes to male candidates, and so are far less likely to be deterred.

Below, you can see the results of our own research around gendered language.

Generally speaking, feminine-coded language increases the likelihood of women applying, while masculine-coded language decreases this likelihood.

Gender coding vs diversity of hires

Use referrals wisely

Referred candidates tend to be of a similar demographic to the referrer.

And so if you’re organisation is predominantly made up of white males, you can guess what sort of candidates referrals will yield.

According to PayScale’s report, female and minority background applicants are less likely to receive a referral than their white counterparts.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use referrals at all.

If you make sure that the referrers themselves are from a diverse array of backgrounds, then the referred candidates should reflect this diversity - a tactic that helped Pinterest with their diversity recruitment.


Ditch CVs

Trashing the CV is the single most effective means of skyrocketing your diversity recruitment.

They allow for bias to enter decision-making and simply don’t tell us much about a candidate’s real ability.

Just look at the results of this 2019 study

Candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more CVs to get the same results as a White-British person.

Extra applications needed to receive 1 callback (by ethnicity)

A 2011 study from Canada had similar results.

CVs with English sounding names were 39% more likely to receive a callback.

Callback rated by resume type and ethnicity

It’s important to understand that results like these aren’t necessarily due to explicit bigotry.

We all have unconscious biases and, if left unchecked, these tend to lead to minority background candidates being overlooked.

No matter how well-intentioned we believe ourselves to be, bias is human nature.

A 2016 study found that employers with pro-diversity language in their job ads were no less biased than any other employer. 

Since minority background candidates were less likely to ‘whiten’ their CV when applying to these seemingly more inclusive organisations, their chances of being were hired were actually lowered.

Callback rates for black candidates

So, successful diversity recruitment has to involve a change in hiring practices, otherwise, outcomes will remain the same.

If we look at the various types of unconscious biases that people tend to hold, it’s easy to see how candidates can end up being unfairly overlooked…

Unconscious biases triggered by a CV

We make snap-associations based on candidates’ names, addresses, school and work experience that get in the way of objective decision-making.

Whilst anonymising CVs would certainly be a step in the right direction, we’d recommend going a step further and scrapping them altogether.

Why? Because what’s left after anonymisation (education and experience) aren’t particularly predictive of real-life skills.

And since we know being from a minority background harms your hiring chances, how can we then turn around and demand that candidates have a specific type of experience? This is just perpetuating the same problem.

Below are the results of the landmark Schmidt-Hunter metastudy.

As you can see, the sorts of information shared via CVs doesn’t effectively predict how capable a candidate actually is.

Predictive validity of hiring methods

Use work samples to screen candidates

At the top of the chart above are ‘work sample tests.’

These are what we use at Applied. We’ve found that 60% of candidates hired via work samples would’ve been missed via a traditional CV sift.

If you’re struggling with diversity recruitment, can you now see how CVs may be missing talent?

We know that CVs lead to certain groups being overlooked.

And we also know that they don’t effectively identify talent.

This is why we decided to forgo the CV entirely in favour of work samples. 

Work samples simulate parts of the role by asking candidates to either perform or explain their approach to them.

The idea is to have candidates think as if they were already in the role.

Instead of the traditional approach of filtering out 80%+ of candidates before even meeting them, work samples offer a chance to showcase skills upfront.

Here’s an example we used for a recent Sales Development Representative role:

It's been a busy week and it's now late on Friday afternoon. You have 4 things you've yet to get to this week, but only time to complete two. Imagine for some reason working late/over the weekend is impossible. Which 2 would you do and why? What would you do regarding the others?

There aren’t right or wrong answers. We're just interested in how you think about priorities. 

1. There is a Webinar next week, we typically go for 200 sign-ups but it only has 100 so far. Perhaps an extra campaign? 

2. Your line manager has asked for a report on how the most recent campaigns have been going as he is chatting with the CEO later that evening.

3. The Community Lead is keen to launch a campaign for next months Training Days first thing on Monday. You haven't written the emails, or got the list of new targets yet.

4. After the last training days you haven't followed up with the attendees to see if they would like to demo the platform. There is about 80 to contact. 

You can find more examples in our Work Sample Cheatsheet.

As you can tell, work samples are hyper-specific to the role being hired for.

We use this 4 step process to build work samples:

  • Decide on 6-8 core skills needed for the role (can be a mix of hard and soft skills)
  • Think of real-life scenarios or tasks that would test one or two of these skills, should the candidate get the job.
  • Turn these into work samples by posing them hypothetically

Work samples don’t have to be difficult scenarios. You could also ask candidates to perform a task associated with the role, although this would obviously have to be one that is writing-based (although you don’t have to test for writing skills if not needed for the job).

This could take the form of an upcoming project that needs planning, a customer email or a mini blog post.

Here’s another example for the same role as above:

We run free training days in order to help Talent professionals de-bias their recruitment processes and understand how behavioural science impacts diversity & inclusion.

Once people understand the science, the chances of them becoming a customer are pretty good! You can see our page for the training days here - https://www.beapplied.com/training-how-to-debias-your-recruitment

You have built a list of 1000 Heads of Talent in the US. Write an email explaining who Applied are, and inviting them along. Remember at this stage we aren't selling them the platform, just trying to get them to come along to the training day. 

In your answer, sign your name with an "X" rather than your name to keep the answer anonymous.

By asking candidates to answer 3-5 of these work sample questions (anonymously), you’ll find the candidates you bring through to interview will already have been pre-qualified in a way that CVs simply can’t replicate.

Of course, education and experience may well forge the best candidates.

But we want to test for skills learned via experience, not just for the experience itself.

It’s often the case that experience in an unrelated field gives someone the unique perspective that makes them the best candidate.

And when it comes to your diversity recruitment, shifting the emphasis from experience to skills will be the key to hiring a diverse array of quality talent.

Key takeaway: use work sample questions instead of CVs to anonymously test for skills upfront.


Structure your interviews

A structured interview is where all candidates are asked the same questions in the same order. 

The more uniform your interviews are, the easier it’ll be to objectively compare candidates.

Since biases can be triggered by near enough any aspect of someone’s background, you’ll want to stick to work sample-style questions if you’re focused on diversity hiring.

As a general rule: if it isn’t relevant to the job, then no need to ask.

Interviews are a chance to see how candidates would think and work in the role, so you could use case study or role-playing tasks to dive deeper into candidates' skills.

Are there any parts of the role that could be simulated in the interview?

This could be a presentation, a mock client meeting or simply explaining how they'd approach a hypothetical project.

Use scoring criteria

To achieve equality and diversity in recruitment, you need to have set criteria against which to score candidates.

Unconscious biases, past experiences and eleven the order in which we meet candidates can all affect our perception, so we have to data-proof the process as much as possible.

Each work sample and interview question should all have their own scoring criteria/review guide.

This can be as basic as a 1-5 star scale.

You can then write a few bullet points explaining what an excellent, average and poor answer might look like.

Here’s the review guide for the work sample we shared above:

# 5 star

  • Does an excellent job of explaining the benefits to them & their team of coming along
  • Non-Salesy - Feels like it could be to you individually 
  • Super engaging and attention-grabbing 
  • All points of 3*

# 3 star

  • Compelling and succinct
  • Good written English 
  • Correct on basic facts about who we are, and what we do

# 1 star

  • Little or no effort made

When it comes to scoring candidates, we’d recommend having three team members score work samples, and then a new three-person panel for each interview round.

This is to harness the power of ‘Crowd Wisdom’ - the general rule that collective judgment is more accurate than that of an individual.

If a reviewer has a certain bias towards or against a candidate, this will be averaged out over the course of the process.

The more diverse your reviewers, the fairer the scores should be - and they don’t all need to be from the relevant department /function, this is why we have review guides!

If your team is big enough, having a different three interviewers for each interview round will give you the most unbiased scores - and help to improve diversity as time goes on.

Key takeaway: Make all interviews uniform and give yourself set criteria to score answers against.

Analytics/ Tracking

You can’t change what you can’t measure

If your goal is equality and diversity in recruitment, you’ll need to actually track these metrics in order to optimise your hiring process.

This begins with an equal opportunities form.

Although your process should be anonymous, you’ll still need to collect diversity metrics to ensure its fairness.

Whilst it’s up to you which details you ask for, you should be clear about what they’ll be used for and that they’ll only ever be used at an aggregate level.

Once you’re able to track candidates’ progression throughout the hiring funnel, you can identify any drop-off points.

If there’s a specific question (or even an entire step of the process) that seems to be disadvantaging a particular group, you’ll be able to spot and address this.

Some hiring processes in the U.S, for example, have been shown to prefer a masculine style of leadership

If you have diversity at the top of the funnel but seem to end up hiring the same sort of people, you can look at your assessment process.

And if diversity is maintained throughout but is lacking at the sourcing stage, you can concentrate your diversity recruitment efforts on attracting a more diverse pool of candidates.

Key takeaway: Start tracking diversity metrics to ensure the fairness of your process.

The Applied Platform was built to remove unconscious bias from hiring using behavioural science so that every candidate gets a fair shot, and teams get to hire the best people.

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