'Bias in recruitment is not just about out-and-out racism or misogyny'

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Inclusive hiring almost always requires companies to start by getting the basics right, according to a leading specialist. (Getty)

Bias in recruitment processes is not just about racism or misogyny, but can be caused by something as simple as an outdated job description, according to a leading recruitment specialist.

“Bias, I think, is associated with a much more macro concern around bigger issues that we might have — out-and-out racism or misogyny — but it often really comes down to whether or not you would prefer to hire somebody from Boston College because that’s where you went,” said Felicity Hassan, the US managing director of Audeliss, an executive search firm.

Inclusive hiring almost always requires companies to start by getting the basics right, Hassan said on Thursday, during a webinar for hiring managers and recruiters co-organised by Audeliss and diversity and inclusion membership organisation INvolve.

Hassan, who started her executive search career in London over 15 years ago, said that removing biases from job descriptions was a crucial starting point.

The webinar was held in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, which has galvanised the drive to confront racism and and how it permeates all aspects of life.

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“You really need to think about whether or not you have a job description that is really focused on the best candidate for the job. Developing a brief that attracts the broadest range of candidates is what you’re looking for,” she said.

Hassan noted that job description often tend to use casual terminology that is often more likely to attract male candidates, such as referring to potential applicants as “rockstars” in their given field.

Others might list “essential” skills for a role that are not actually required to excel in the job itself, such as project management experience. Recruiters should carefully decide what skills are simply preferable, rather than essential, for a candidate to have.

Sometimes, Hassan said, outdated items from job descriptions — which are often heedlessly copy and pasted — can discourage qualified candidates from applying for a role.

“It’s really important to be thoughtful about what’s nice to have and what’s absolutely essential,” she said.

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This, alone, is obviously not enough, Hassan warned. Just because a company has amended its job description and decided that it wants a diverse pool of applicants does not mean it suddenly will receive them, she said.

“You have to change your inputs if you want different outputs,” Hassan said. “If you have historically not procured a diverse range of candidates for a search, that won’t change just because you decided that you want diverse candidates.”

“You have to be proactive in the way in which you engage your audience. So you have to commit to a range of passive and active sourcing [of candidates].”

This involves thinking about a recruiter’s network and reach out to wider communities, Hassan said.