A Barry-Wehmiller Company

Remove Bias and Increase Diversity Through a Holistic Hiring Process

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Historical Hiring Methods

In the 1950s, in a bid to increase gender diversity, most symphony orchestras revised their hiring practices. The first step was to expand their hiring to a wider range of candidates that included musicians apart from those the conductor recommended. For some orchestras, the second step included a “blind” audition practice where applicants played behind a screen to conceal their identity and gender from the hiring panel.

The result? In the years following these revisions, the percentage of female musicians in the top-ranked orchestras in the US increased from just 6% to over 20%. While this might seem like a paltry increase, given the extremely low turnover in most symphonies, it is quite significant—upwards of 300%!

But, why did the hiring change with concealed identities? More importantly, how are your organization’s hiring and promotion practices like the symphonies of the 1950s? Let’s soften that question just a little…what can your organization do to reduce the biases in its hiring?

Although not intentional, the typical hiring and selection processes can damage an organization’s ability to hire a more diverse and capable workforce. While a blind audition might work for an orchestra, it’s probably not an effective methodology for your organization.

Holistic Hiring Process

Employing a more scientific and structured selection process is superior (better results), it’s verifiable (you can measure progress), it’s defensible (exceeds the legal requirements), and it’s repeatable (you can scale it). Most importantly, putting the right person in the right job is a caring act of leadership that leads to a more engaged, diverse, performing, and loyal workforce. There are three steps to a more holistic approach to hiring and selection:

  1. Standardized interviews and training
  2. Pre-employment assessments
  3. Job competency matching

Standardized Interviews & Training

Most hiring managers believe they are great or above average at interviewing. Spoiler alert, mathematically this cannot be possible. And the statistics prove this. The hiring success rate for most managers is 50/50. Flipping a coin has the same probability of a successful hire as the typical unstructured interview practices used by untrained hiring managers!

Research demonstrates that standardized, structured interviews are significantly more accurate at predicting future success on the job. These types of interviews introduce a structure into your hiring practices that becomes the standard across all candidates for that role. For example, all candidates are asked the same questions, these questions focus on behaviors rather than thoughts and feelings, and candidates are rated on a common scale. Using these practices in your interviews decreases subjectivity, biases, and potentially illegal questions. They also provide the interviewer with interview records, faster interviews, and standardization across candidates.

In addition to putting structure to the interview, you need to train your hiring managers and leaders responsible for selection and promotions. Interview training is designed to aid managers in conducting structured interviews. Managers are guided to define key competencies for the role, create role-specific questions based on the competencies, and develop a rating scale. Questions that tie to competencies allow the interviewer to directly link their questions to successful performance on the job.

Pre-Employment Assessments

Apart from standardized interviews and interview training, there is another method that helps surface diverse candidates who may otherwise get overlooked from a resume or interview alone: assessments.

Created by reputable test development companies and repeatedly validated by research, pre-employment testing is a combination of personality and cognitive ability tests. The tests include normed data, meaning you can compare your candidates’ scores against a larger population of individuals from a similar level or position.

When used correctly, these assessments can help predict job performance more objectively. This can lead to a more fair and unbiased candidate assessment, ultimately contributing to more fair and equitable hiring practices.

However, there is one cautionary note to consider. While cognitive ability tests do predict future success on the job, they can cause adverse (or disparate) impacts. Adverse impact occurs when a decision, practice, or policy disproportionately negatively affects a protected group, even though the adverse impact may be unintentional. One way to ensure assessments are used in the proper context is to hire a trained consultant psychologist to interpret test results and make recommendations based on quantifiable data. This also further ensures objectivity and defensibility. By considering multiple criteria and weighing them appropriately as they relate to the job, decision-making will be based on more than one data point, therefore giving people of all backgrounds a fair chance at employment. And, your organization has a fair chance at becoming a more diverse employer.

Job Competency Matching

Creating arbitrary knowledge and skill requirements that are not job-related can lead to unfair hiring practices. Therefore, in addition to a more scientific interview process, training your hiring managers on avoiding bias, and employing validated assessments, there is a need to ensure you have properly identified the qualifications for successful performance on the job.

Our team provides a library of competencies to assist hiring managers in choosing accurate job requirements. Our trained Ph.D. consultants can then assess candidates on how well their problem-solving skills, work-related personality traits, and leadership abilities translate to that position.

Validated in Research

Rather than the 50-50 chance an unstructured interview provides, a research study conducted on one of our clients utilizing structured and objective interviews in conjunction with pre-employment assessments, showed that after one year of employment, 94% of the employees we recommended performed successfully on the job (i.e., fulfilled or exceeded the requirements of their position).

With fair and sound hiring and selection practices, your organization can drastically reduce bias and increase the diversity of backgrounds and skills in your workforce. You will also impact the societies in which your organization does business by being an employer who gives each candidate an equal opportunity to join your ranks. And importantly, their unique background and perspective, make your organization even better. 

Meet the Author

Andrea Cornelius

Client Experience Specialist

Andrea Cornelius brings a unique background of research and publications in employee engagement and leadership. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate and adjunct professor at Saint Louis University.

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David Weller

Senior Partner

For the past 25 years, David has had a passion for helping clients take the guesswork out of their hiring and development practices.

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