If you are not bias conscious you shouldn’t be a recruiter

I was intrigued to read that a recruiter had been fired by Pepsico for failing to provide a diverse short list which should have included more than one woman. I actually don’t think the lack of women on a short list is a diversity issue, but one of balance and inclusion. It’s a small thing and illustrates underlying thinking, but at least there is a conversation. But who should be held accountable for a lack of diverse candidates on any short list when most recruiters are not bias conscious themselves?

Bias conscious recruitment

As with all these issues it’s often more nuanced than people realise. In 2014 I wrote post “Do headhunters exclude women”   It was in response to a Glasshammer post about how executive search companies and headhunters serve to exclude women. I read the Glasshammer article with interest and the report it was based on  “And then there are none: on the exclusion of women in processes of executive search,” which appeared in Gender in Management: An International Journal in 2013.

My main contention was two-fold:

  • if organisations really wanted to hire women they would
  • the recruitment process is riddled with unconscious bias at every turn, both at head hunter level and internal corporate processes.

Responsibility split   – head hunters and recruiters 

I don’t know anything about the assignment brief which resulted in the firing of the recruiter, so can’t comment on the detail. The reality is that some recruiters are woefully unprepared to recruit anyone at all, let alone provide gender balanced shortlists. Unconscious bias training should be mandatory for all recruiters and if they are not  “bias conscious” I would even contend they shouldn’t be recruiters.

This is fixable.

  • Understand the concept of gender coding and other biases and how the impact the recruitment process. A client bemoaned the fact that their entry-level intake for women was at 33%, which although was a critical mass for women, meant that the talent pipeline struggled when churn kicked in later down the line. Yet only a cursory check showed that their adverts are male coded. This will not be the only factor but it will play a role.
  • Be able to ask their clients the right questions. The fact is that women are under represented at senior levels in almost all organisations. Detailed analysis needs to be made of where barriers for women occur and why. Many organisations need to re-think their hiring policies and come up with some creative alternatives.
  • With a tendency to demand shortlisted candidates who can “hit the ground running” at a more senior level, organisations place demands on recruiters to look for the usual suspects in the usual places and they tend to be male.
  • They can source candidates in a creative way from places where women will be found, not by running a basic Boolean string on LinkedIn. Currently recruiters rely heavily on their networks to present shortlists which can lead to the embedding of affinity bias, what I call the 3Ms (Mini –Male-Mes)
  • They need to know how to sell to women. Many don’t.
  • They need to understand gender difference in communication and ask better questions of both male and female candidates.
  • They can make sure that interviews are structured and that any potential bias is called out. Many are reluctant to do this because clients can take offence. I’ve been in this situation and it calls for extreme diplomacy.

Corporate Responsibility

  • Stop the practise of hiring recruiters on contingency (no placement no fee) especially first past the post. It encourages dubious quick fix, low-cost practises which are certainly not diverse.
  • Be more creative themselves –  consider returnships and other ways of strengthening the female talent pipeline. Support recruitment organisations which have an innovative approach to recruitment.

Bias is learned behaviour and habits acquired over years in all aspects of our every day lives. Understanding those biases, to make bias conscious decisions requires significant effort and training to become conscious of where and when it impacts the recruitment process and all hiring decisions. Needless to say this applies to all biases not just gender. But it’s a good place to start.

If you need a bias conscious recruitment team – place a call now. 

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