Hiring for diversity: Everything you need to know

Joe Caccavale

18

August

2020

|

10

min read

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You’re committed to improving diversity.

You want to build a diverse team.

But how do you attract and hire the right people, without quotas and positive discrimination?

When we talk about hiring for diversity, we mean making a conscious effort to attract a more diverse set of candidates at the very top of the funnel, and then ensuring that no single group is disadvantaged by any steps in the hiring process.

Let’s clear one thing up: the process below does not guarantee you’ll hire someone from a minority background. However, by removing bias from your process and starting off with a diverse pool of applicants, diversity will improve.

It’s also worth taking a moment to define what we mean by ‘diversity’. 

True hiring diversity should go beyond basic optics.

Whist race and gender may be the first things that spring to mind, we’d encourage you to expand your definition to include educational background, geography, economics, disability, sexual preference, religious affiliation, age, and neuro-diversity.

Here’s how we approach diversity in recruiting at each stage of the process...

Sourcing a diverse pool of candidates

Diversity is often put down to being a pipeline issue.

It doesn’t matter how fair your assessment process is if there’s no diversity in the people going through it. 

If you’re not seeing the top-of-funnel diversity you’d like, there are a few steps you can take to attract and source people from a wider range of backgrounds.

There’s a science to job descriptions - here’s how to master it

The words you use in your job description will directly influence who applies. By using the behavioural science-based guidelines below, you’ll cast your net wider and attract a more diverse set of candidates.

Only list essential requirements

Demanding an extensive list of requirements will rule out talented people who simply haven’t been afforded certain opportunities.

Ask yourself: which of your requirements are actually more like ‘nice to have’s?’

We strongly recommend keeping requirements to a minimum if you want a large, diverse (and of course skilled) candidate pool.

The steeper you make the barriers to entry, the more risk-averse candidates you’ll deter.

Being risk-averse doesn’t make someone any less talented or qualified, it simply means that they qualify themselves out quicker.

Research has shown that generally speaking, women tend not to apply for roles unless they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men who will apply meet only 60% of the requirements (likely due to a combination of gendered differences in confidence and the fact that women are more socialised to follow the rules).

So, by cutting down on requirements alone, you should see more female applicants.

Forget education and experience requirements 

We'd also urge you not to include years of experience or education. Although they might seem necessary, they’re actually one of the weakest predictors of actual skill... and they also imply that candidates should be of a certain age.

Sure, experience might make someone better at their job, but not all experience has equal worth, and sometimes an outsider perspective can be the breath of fresh air the role needs.

As we’ll cover shortly, if your assessment methods are predictive (which they will be), you have nothing to fear when it comes to letting go of experience.

Gendered language 

The words you use carry subconscious meaning. 

As a result, candidates who feel that they don’t ‘fit the bill’ will rule themselves out.

Your job description is telling candidates what sort of working environment they can expect, and if they’d fit in or not.

By using excessive masculine language like ‘superior’, ‘competitive’, ‘decisive’ and ‘determined’, you risk deterring women from applying.

Why? Because you’re signalling to female applicants that this role was built for a male.

Try writing either neutral or feminine coded job descriptions. 

Feminine-worded job descriptions will increase the odds of women applying, while masculine coded job descriptions will discourage female applicants.

Wait, won’t feminine language put off men? No. Feminine language doesn’t seem to have the same effect on male applicants. 

So, the key takeaway here: avoid masculine coded language to improve gender diversity in your recruiting.

Psst... we built a Job Description Analysis Tool to detect gendered language.

A few gender-coded terms to be aware of

Use the networks of candidates from minority backgrounds when headhunting

Research has found that when the final candidate pool has only one minority candidate, he or she has virtually no chance of being hired.

If there are at least two minority candidates in the final candidate pool - the odds are 194 times greater.

This is why it’s important to start with a diverse set of candidates - and why you need to actively headhunt if you’re genuinely committed to hiring for diversity.

The problem with network-based hiring and referrals is that one’s network tends to be a reflection of themselves.

According to Payscale, referral hiring programs tend to benefit Caucasian men more than any other demographic and McKinsey’s found that when men are asked about their professional networks, 63% of them state it’s comprised of “more or all men.”

Whilst you shouldn’t rely on your network to source candidates, you can try asking people you already know from minority groups to share roles.

This tactic helped Pinterest attract 55% more candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Use specialist job boards

If you’re looking to fill specific diversity gaps, then post your jobs on specialist job boards.

Here’s a few to get started…


Job boards are expensive, so make sure you’re getting your ROI.

We’d recommend tracking the candidates each job board is bringing in. You’ll likely find that some bring in better and more varied-background candidates than others.

You can set up basic tracking by using UTM links, which will tell you who came from where.

We’ve rounded up some of our favourite job boards below to get you off the starting block...

Make sure your careers page is optimised for diversity

Glassdoor found that 67% of job seekers see diversity as an important factor when considering companies and job offers.

If your organisation is making an effort to improve diversity in recruiting and across the business as a whole, then be sure to shout about it on your careers page.

According to Linkedin, the #1 obstacle candidates experience when searching for a job is not knowing what it’s like to work at an organisation. 

The more transparent you can be around your company culture the better.

Make sure your careers page shows real photos and quotes that provide a genuine insight into what it’s like to work there.

Removing bias from assessment

Now that you’ve got a diverse pool of candidates to assess, how can you ensure they’re being judged fairly and accurately?

At Applied, we pride ourselves on using the most predictive, bias-free forms of assessment out there, and this is how you can utilise them too...

Start by ditching CVs

If you want to see radical results, you have to make radical changes.

Diversity in recruiting will suffer as long as we use CVs.

What is the value of a CV? It’s seeing someone’s education and experience.

But, what if we told you: they aren’t predictive of ability?

We often share the chart below, and for good reason… look at how hopeful the information on your typical CV is… not very!


Education and experience can both necessitate some degree of privilege and so candidates from underrepresented, disadvantaged groups are predominately overlooked.

In a randomised control trial, we found that 60% of people hired ‘blind’ would’ve been missed in a traditional CV sift.‍

What does that tell you?

It tells you that ditching CVs doesn’t sacrifice the quality of candidate - it’s actually putting MORE emphasis on quality.

And when you focus solely on skills by removing bias, diversity will improve as a byproduct.

Experience is just a proxy for the skills we’re actually looking for.

Since we now know how to assess for the skills needed for the job directly, there’s no longer a need for CVs.

Instead of CVs, try ‘blind’ screening

Organisations using our ‘blind’ process have seen up 4x more candidates from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

We use work samples - job-specific questions designed to test how a candidate would think and perform in the role. 

When it comes to hiring for diversity, make work samples your secret weapon.

Work samples simulate the job as closely as possible by asking candidates to think through or actually have a go at tasks/situations that would legitimately need to be tackled should they get the job.

Ideally, you’d outline 6-8 key skills needed for the role, and then base your questions around them. This means that every question serves a purpose and you can build a profile of each candidate’s skillset.

Here’s an example of a question we used for a Client Growth Manager role:

“You have received a lead from the Marketing Department at Applied. They have arranged an initial introductory call for you which will last about 30 minutes. How would structure the call and what would success look like? What would you do to follow up afterward?”

You can get the lowdown on our work sample creation process here.

Make sure you have standardised scoring

The key to unbiased, data-lead assessment is using standardised criteria for all candidates.

Every candidate should be scored against the same criteria, across the entire process.

You don’t need an elaborate system, just a 1-5 star scale for each work sample or interview question.

Not only does this prevent gut-assessments (which is essentially just bias taking effect), but it also enables you to get a better-rounded view of someone’s skillset.

If every candidate is scored out of 5 for each question, you can add their scores to create a scoreboard.

This means that at the end of the possess, there should be a clear winner, with no room for debate.

Switch to structured interviews 

Referring back to the predictive validity chart above, you’ll notice that structured interviews are the next most accurate assessment method behind work samples.

Structured interviews mean that every candidate is asked the same questions in the same order using the same scoring criteria.

You should avoid asking about experience and background.

Instead, you can pose questions hypothetically, similarly to work samples.

Ask what they would do in a given situation or faced with a certain task.

You could also work through a case study. Is there any part of the job that can be replicated? Maybe a sales pitch or a prioritisation task?

Have at least 3 reviewers

For both work sample scoring and interviews, it’s recommended that you have at least another two team members score questions with you. 

Each of you should be scoring independently.

This is so that you reap the benefits of ‘crowd wisdom’ - the general rule that collective judgment is more accurate than that of an individual… and the more diverse the reviewers, the more diverse your hires will be.

Analyse how candidates perform - are there any stages with a big drop off?

Giving scores across each assessment stage doesn’t just help decide who to hire, it also helps to ensure no groups are being disadvantaged at any of those stages.

Hiring for diversity is more complex than just attraction and bias-removal. 

Even when well-intentioned, you can still have questions or entire assessment rounds that are hindering your efforts.

You want to see that the diversity in the initial pool stays relatively similar throughout the process. 

If there’s any stage - maybe it’s an entire interview or just a particular question - that a given group is disproportionately underperforming in, then you might want to ask yourself whether the phrasing, structure, etc is inclusive enough.

Forget about culture fit

Not all work samples and interview questions need to test hard skills.

You can also assess working characteristics as well as things like mission alignment.

We tend to ask candidates why they’re applying to work for us and why now.

However, diversity in recruitment is hampered when this line of questioning looks at ‘culture fit.’

If a candidate is passionate about your mission and is aligned with your values, that’s all that matters.

When we start looking at culture fit, we’re essentially asking how like us the candidate is - and so diversity never improves.

Humans are biased, and the only way to mitigate against this is to design systems that make it impossible. Applied was built to remove bias from the hiring process, so that the best person gets the job, regardless of their background. To find out how we’re re-thinking the hiring process from the ground up, browse our resources, or start a free trial of the Applied platform.