Hiring for Diversity: Everything You Need to Know

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
February 22, 2022
10
 min read

Debiased Hiring Bundle

You’re committed to improving diversity.

You want to build a diverse team.

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

Spoiler alert: you don't have to buy recruitment platforms, there are cost-free steps you can take that will have a genuine impact...

What do we mean by ‘diversity recruitment’?

Improving the diversity of your workforce 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.

Hiring for diversity means 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 diversity hiring that measurably fuels growth 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.

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).

Training effect on management diversity (chart)


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

Why doesn’t diversity training work? Because it attempts to debias individuals.

We all have biases, it’s human nature. 

And no amount of training will change that.

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

It is, however, possible to debias a process... 

And if you debias your recruitment process, hiring for diversity shouldn't be a challenge - even at a senior or board level.

Proven, data-backed diversity hiring strategies

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, organizations using this process report up to 4x attraction and selection of ethnically diverse candidates - with a 9/10 average candidate experience rating.

Sourcing a diverse pool of candidates

When recruitment driven diversity fails, it's often put down to being a sourcing issue.

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

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.

When there are at least two women in the final pool - the odds are 194 times greater.

Finalist pools vs hiring decisions (chart)


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 

Perhaps one of the biggest and most common diversity hiring mistakes is over-indexing on education and experience.

Although they might seem necessary, they’re actually one of the weakest predictors of actual skill.

We know that candidates from underprivileged backgrounds are less likely to attend top universities - a key determining factor when it comes to gaining impressive-looking work experience.

Studies also tell us that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to be living in relative poverty.

% of people in relative poverty by ethnicity (chart)

So, how can we claim to be hiring for diversity if we gatekeep the background required to even apply?

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-coded job descriptions will increase the odds of women applying, while masculine-coded job descriptions will discourage female applicants.
Gender coding effect on diversity (chart)


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.

Examples of masculine-coded language

  • Analytical
  • Autonomous
  • Independent
  • Leader

Examples of feminine-coded language

  • Committed
  • Dependable
  • Supportive
  • Trustworthy
Job description template breakdown

Psst... you can grab our behavioural science-based Job Description Template here.

Use the networks of candidates from minority backgrounds when headhunting

Referrals may be cheap and fast, but they can seriously harm your diversity recruitment efforts.

How employee referrals harm diversity (chart)


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

And some demographics have stronger networks than others.

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.

How men and women find jobs (chart)


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.

Make sure your careers page is optimized 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.

Debiasing your assessments

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

Well, the first step is to acknowledge that we're all subject to unconscious bias, no matter how experienced or well-intentioned we may be.

To make sense of our complicated world and simplify the 1000s of micro-decisions we make every day, our brains have a tendency to subconsciously draw conclusions and patterns to make help us get by without using too much mental bandwidth.

Whilst this is extremely useful in day-to-day life, this is what leads to negative outcomes when it comes to hiring decisions.


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

Start by ditching CVs

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

If you're struggling with diversity hiring initiatives, ditching CVs is one of the most impactful moves you can make.

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.

And the higher up the ladder you climb, the less diversity in leadership you'll see.

Extra applications needed to receive 1 callback by ethnicity (chart)


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.

Bias is an inescapable part of 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 organizations, their chances of being were hired were actually lowered.

Effect of diversity statements on callback rates (chart)

Successful diversity recruitment, like the English and Wales Cricket Board achieved, 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…

How bias affects a CV screening

So what is the value of a CV? Why are we still using them?

For most hirers, it’s seeing someone’s education and experience.

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

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

Predictive validity of assessment methods (chart)


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

In a randomized 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, anonymously test for skills using work samples

At Applied, 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.


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

Rather than rely on assumptions based on background (which is often clouded by socioeconomic factors), work samples test directly for the skills needed for 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.

Example work samples

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 hiring for diversity, shifting the emphasis from experience to skills will be the key to hiring a diverse array of quality talent.

Make sure you have standardized scoring

The key to unbiased, data-lead assessment is using standardized 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.

Example review guide


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.

Applied candidate leaderboard

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.

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.

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.

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.

Example case study

Have at least 3 reviewers

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.

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.

Try tracking diversity metrics

If your goal is equality and diversity in recruitment, you’ll need to actually track these metrics in order to optimize your hiring process and make a solid business case for your efforts.

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 - whether it be ethnic diversity, disability status or the gender pay gap.

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.

Analyze 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 are 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.

Applied diversity analytics

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 hiring is hampered when this line of questioning looks at ‘culture fit.’

Not only is it a smokescreen for bias, but also doesn't tell us much about someone's ability or how likely they are to stick around.

Impact of culture fit (chart)


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.

Hiring for diversity: summary

  • Remove gendered language from job descriptions
  • Track your job boards and post to specialist job boards
  • Don't rely on referrals
  • Swap CVs for work samples
  • Give youself scoring criteria
  • Anonymize applications
  • Have multiple reviwers to reduce bias
  • Structure your interviews
  • Use case studies and role play tasks instead of questions about background
  • Track diversity data to see any drop-offs
  • Ditch culture fit

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.

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