Beware of focusing on personality and presentation
Increasingly popular recruitment practices that focus on candidates’ personality and presentation carry greater discrimination risks, HR specialists warn. Most employers are now familiar with the concept of unconscious bias, but Australian Human Resources Professionals (AHRP) psychologist and international facilitator Glenda May says she is “really anxious” about emerging practices that not only allow for unconscious bias, but encourage it.
A new practice in the public sector, for example, asks candidates to write 500 words about why they’re the best applicant for the job. This approach, which reduces the focus on key selection criteria and emphasises a candidate’s background, presentation and personality, is “fraught” with risk, says May, because it makes it even easier for selectors to let gut feel and affinity bias (the attraction towards ‘people like us’) compromise their decisions.
Using video interviews in the early stages of recruitment should also ring alarm bells because it increases the possibility that factors such as attractiveness, gender, ethnicity and personality will influence an applicant’s chances of success. The process is particularly problematic if the ability to present well is not even a role requirement, because it will favour extroverted personalities, May says.
Hiring based on bias and assumptions
AHRP CEO and founding director James Judge says the impact of unconscious bias on workplaces can be profound because “you’re just going to end up hiring people who are like you, on the basis of a whole lot of superficial assumptions that you’re not aware of… You end up with the same cohort, and you stifle innovation”.
Recruitment practices that emphasise personality and presentation are not the only ones to beware of, as rushed or reactive recruiting can also heighten the risk of dismissing quality candidates without reason, he says.”I’ve seen recruiters doing bulk recruitment rounds – they get hundreds of CVs – and they don’t spend more than five seconds on a CV,” he says, so something as basic as a foreign, Indigenous or female name can compromise a candidate’s chances when decisions are rushed.
Further, even companies that are known for their progressive culture can fall prey to practices that reinforce bias, May says. Google’s meeting rooms, for example, were initially all named after men, and until recently all the rooms in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were named after either men or flowers and plants.
May, who describes unconscious bias as “a mental shortcut that we take based on stereotypes”, says recruiters let stereotypes and extraneous factors such as height, weight, nationality and gender influence their decisions all the time. She still hears selectors say things like, “I want a woman because I want someone who can multi-task”, “he’s over 50 so he’s not going to be great with rapid change”, “I want an IT person, so it needs to be someone young and nerdy”, and even “all Asians are good with numbers”.