Companies that are seeking to grow sustainably may find themselves frustrated by a hidden threat: unfair hiring practices. Unfair hiring practices prevent organizations from diversifying their workforces and bringing on talent that will allow them to innovate, be productive, and grow profitably.
The problem with unfair hiring practices (beyond the issue that not all candidates get a fair shot) is that they are often unintentionally unfair. Discriminatory recruitment practices tend to stem from unconscious biases. For this reason, eliminating unfair recruitment practices from your hiring process takes time, dedication, and organization-wide commitment: but the results are well worth the effort.
What are unfair hiring practices?
Unfair hiring practices are aspects of the hiring process that are unfair to certain groups or individuals. They are often the result of hidden biases that are common in recruitment processes, such as affinity bias or confirmation bias.
Unfair hiring practices range in severity, with the most unfair hiring crossing the line into discrimination, which is illegal. But, even minor mistakes, such as the way you write a job description, can cross over into the realm of unfair recruitment practices.
Why are unfair hiring practices bad?
Beyond being ethically dubious, unfair recruitment practices are bad for business. These types of biases prevent an organization from achieving its diversity hiring goals. Organizations that fail to uncover unfair hiring practices are more likely to make a bad hire; the criteria they use to make an offer is based on the candidate’s appearance, alma mater, or political party, for instance, rather than their skill set.
Bad hires can cost companies thousands of dollars and waste countless hours. High turnover isn’t the only risk, however. Unfair hiring practices disproportionately impact diverse candidates, discouraging minorities from starting or completing the hiring process. On average, organizations that are unable to increase diversity perform 35% worse than their more diverse peers.
[Read more: 35 Impressive Diversity In The Workplace Statistics]
Unfair hiring processes do the most damage when they cross the line from simply inequitable — to illegal. Unfair hiring practices open an organization up to potential discrimination lawsuits. In 2019 alone, there were more than 63,000 charges filed for racial, sexual, or age-related discrimination, with a further 40,000 charges for retaliation. Penalties for illegal recruiting practices can climb up to $300,000, depending on the size of the organization.
Illegal vs. unfair hiring practices
The line between unfair and outright illegal hiring practices can be confusing to some organizations. All illegal hiring practices and discrimination are unfair, but not all unfair recruiting practices are illegal. Knowing the difference can protect you from an unfair hiring practices lawsuit.
Illegal hiring practices are those which discriminate against a candidate in a way that violates labor laws, disability protections, or civil rights. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against someone due to characteristics such as race, color, religion, gender (including sexual orientation and sex), nationality, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
What are some examples of illegal hiring practices? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states the following examples cross the line between unfair and illegal.
- Job advertisements that are written to attract specific candidates. Posting a job seeking “a recently graduated woman” discourages older men to apply, violating discrimination laws on the basis of age and gender.
- Relying solely on referrals or word-of-mouth marketing. If you ask your employees to spread the word that your organization is hiring, but only speak to employees who are white men in their 30s and only hire white men in their 30s, that is considered discrimination.
- Asking a recruiting agency or partner to find candidates from a certain interest group. Despite the fact that the agency is working on behalf of a company, the company is not allowed to “ask the employment agency to recruit employees based on any of the protected classes, such as race, color, national origin, and gender,” explained one law firm.
- Making pre-employment inquiries for specific information about a candidate. Recruiters are prohibited from asking job candidates for information regarding their race, religious affiliation, gender, disabilities, medical history, citizenship, and etc.
- Preventing candidates of a certain group from accessing an application. Recruiting teams may not refuse to provide an application to someone based on their background.
All illegal hiring acts are considered unfair since they’re based on discriminating against a certain person or group. But, there are some unfair acts that don’t quite cross the line into illegality. These hiring practices are unfair to the job candidates but do not break any civil rights, disability, or labor laws.
Examples of unfair hiring practices
Unfair hiring practices run the gamut from unintentional to deceptive. If a hiring team isn’t transparent about the position or uses different criteria to judge one candidate from another, it is guilty of unfair recruitment. Here are some common examples of unfair hiring practices.
[Read more: Fair Hiring Practices: 6 Steps To A Fair Process]
Job descriptions are unclear
Recruiting teams must write clear job descriptions that encourage well-qualified, diverse candidates to apply. Avoid using words that signal a gender preference, for example. Words like “competitive” or “strong” are subconsciously perceived as male-specific, while words like “support” and “assist” are perceived to appeal to female candidates.
Interviews are unstructured
Unstructured interviews are those which do not use a set of predetermined questions in an effort to create a conversation that is informal, open-ended, and “friendly.” The trouble with unstructured interviews is that they lead to inconsistent results and room for unconscious bias. One candidate’s interview might reveal that the individual shares the same hobbies as the recruiter, while another interview may focus entirely on the candidate’s last position. Confirmation bias can give preference to someone who isn’t the right fit due to personal preference.
A resume is the only factor considered in the hiring decision
If a company is in a rush to fill a position or new to hiring remotely, it might only consider using a candidate’s CV to assess their suitability for the role. This is a mistake. First, 80% of resumes contain misleading information — if not outright lies.
Likewise, resumes are imbued with racial and gender biases. Studies have shown that recruiters unconsciously pass over resumes with “ethnic” names and view resumes with male names attached to them more favorably. It’s unfair — and harms both candidates and the organization.
Requiring too many steps in the hiring process
Many companies require a phone interview or skill assessment and at least one in-person interview. Job candidates expect to go through two to four phases in the hiring process. However, when a hiring process includes more steps, it can start to become unfair to candidates who have other commitments. Working parents, or candidates with disabilities, may struggle to visit an in-person interview multiple times. Those who are working long shifts and unable to take multiple phone interviews may be forced to drop out of the process prematurely. Complex and lengthy hiring processes may seem thorough, but they may just be unfair.
Using current employment status as a qualifier
It’s technically not illegal to request the current employment status of a candidate, but it’s definitely unfair. This is an incredibly common practice — one study estimated that 82% of hiring managers say they are more likely to hire employed candidates than those who are unemployed. Hiring based on current employment status is still discriminatory; it will also prevent you from moving forward with potentially qualified applicants.
How to fix your hiring process
Luckily, there are concrete steps you can take to fix unfair hiring practices. Taking steps to unearth bias built into your hiring process, attract more diverse candidates, and frame your hiring strategy around skills, rather than character traits, can help make your hiring more equitable.
[Read more: 8 Inclusive Hiring Practices You Need To Adopt Today]
Try blind hiring
Blind hiring obscures identifiable characteristics that are not related to the candidate’s experience and job skills on each application. Blind hiring removes cues that can lead to unfair hiring practices, hiding things such as gender, ethnic background, education, age, names, and hobbies or personal interests. Blind hiring is one method that has helped companies overcome some of the unconscious biases that make it difficult for diverse candidates to get far in the hiring process.
Standardize and automate skill testing
Skill testing offers the double benefit of verifying a candidate is capable of doing the job well (augmenting a resume) and standardizing the method used to assess candidates. Skills assessment software like Vervoe allow recruiters to evaluate different technical and non-technical skills. From coding challenges in eight languages to presentations and live spreadsheets, our assessments create an experience that tests how candidates will really perform day-to-day tasks.
Skill testing also builds structure into the hiring process. Each candidate has an equal opportunity to perform well on the same set of questions. Bias-free AI ranks each person’s result so that no one is eliminated. It’s a great way to set an even playing field early on in your hiring process.
Communicate clearly and transparently
Companies that are upfront about their hiring criteria, steps in the process, and decisions along the way provide a better candidate experience and avoid discriminatory hiring practices. Transparency is key. Write clear job descriptions that don’t contain a laundry list of preferred skills. Lay out the steps that a candidate will take before reaching a final decision: a phone screen, skills assessment, and in-person interview, for instance. When you decide not to move forward with someone, let them know promptly. Making the experience streamlined and efficient for everyone will help you maintain consistency and fairness across the board.
Provide bias and EEOC training
Unfortunately, many unfair hiring practices stem from unconscious bias. Combat this hidden threat with both unconscious bias training and workshops covering EEOC and fair hiring practices. In fact, all employees should regularly participate in unconscious bias training to ensure all team members are supported and supportive of an inclusive work culture. Anyone involved in the hiring process should also be familiarized with the pitfalls of ignoring federal and state labor and anti-discrimination laws.
For more advice and resources to help you combat unfair hiring practices, check out Vervoe’s Diversity Hiring Software built to empower better diversity and inclusion at organizations of all sizes.