Businesses want to hire the best people but without even realising it, they may be excluding great talent.
Unconscious biases are something everyone has – the learned stereotypes that affect the way people think and feel about others based on race, gender, age, social group or minority background.
In recruitment, this looks like an organisation hiring people who look like those already there.
CEO of the Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) Lisa Annese says we may think we're rational and open minded, but we all default to positions of bias.
"Sometimes we rate people more highly if we like them or they're more similar to us," she says.
Unfortunately, only 55% of hirers say they have strategies in their hiring process to help eliminate bias, according to research for SEEK.
What are the benefits of inclusive hiring?
Tapping into a diverse talent pool is critical to business success, Annese says.
"It's well studied that if you're able to hire diverse people and make an inclusive environment for them, you become more innovative, people make more effort, and you're able to solve problems and manage risk better."
With low unemployment across Australia, many businesses are struggling to find great people. But at the same time, there are more than 3 million Australian workers who are under-leveraged or under-utilised, according to DCA figures.
"Businesses that don't hire inclusively could be overlooking a significant proportion of available talent," Annese says. Recruitment without bias takes skill, time and energy, she adds.
Here are five ways for organisations to hire more inclusively.
1. Focus on the skills required – not the experience
Chris Collins is the Talent and Acquisition Manager for services provider McMillan Shakespeare (MMS), which is committed to building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.
He says recruiting without bias starts with a panel of people of mixed experience, knowledge and backgrounds, who together decide on the skills required for a role.
"We try to approach each recruitment process with an open mind."
Annese says the criteria itself must be inclusive.
"Asking for Australian experience excludes those from another country. Asking for five years' uninterrupted service excludes those who've had a baby, been a carer or had to deal with a chronic health condition," she says.
"What you're looking for are the skills, and if the skills are project management, does it matter if it's from the school netball club?"
2. Create inclusive jobs ads and cast your net wide
Collins says MMS ads aim to use plain English and inclusive language.
"We state that we encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and individuals from all backgrounds, including those caring for and living with a disability, to apply," he says.
Annese suggests companies don't rely solely on generic recruitment agencies and jobs boards alone.
"These methods tend to benefit people who are already employed. Others may not have internet access, may not speak English as a first language, or may have a disability.
"But it's the process that's the barrier, not their skills."
Hirers should connect with local marginalised communities and peak bodies, and advertise on specialised jobs boards that target migrants, people with disabilities and First Nations peoples, she suggests.
3. Implement anonymised resumés, structured interviews – or no interviews
Research has proven time and again that people with non-Anglo names are less likely to get from application to interview stage, which is where anonymised resumés can be helpful.
But companies also need to ensure bias stays out of the interview process, Collins says.
MMS's diverse hiring panel uses consistent interview questions with all candidates and scores each one using a set of matrices.
"We try to make sure that the decision making is based on quantitative measures as opposed to someone's gut feel," he says.
"If all the candidates are given the same opportunities and undergo the same activities, the best one will be the one that has the best score."
Annese agrees ranking a candidate according to a set of criteria is more inclusive, but says interviews by their very nature can be fraught with bias, whether they're done in person or online.
"People have to perform under stress, which may not suit everyone and may not be a skill required for the role."
DCA gives questions out to candidates ahead of the interview.
"This removes barriers for people who may be really shy, whose English isn't their first language, or for people who may have a more considered personality type," she says.
4. Be wary of AI assessment tools
Many organisations have started to use tools linked to artificial intelligence (AI) to select candidates. Annese says while they can be helpful, they can also have bias built-in, which can be problematic.
"If you are asking people to send a video interview, AI can make judgments about someone's personality type based on things that are irrelevant such as their ability to make eye contact, children making noise in the background, or even a brightly coloured wall.
"Sometimes we can't explain these assumptions, so you've got to be wary."
5. Check on your processes
Collins says internal checks and balances can be a useful way to keep bias at bay in the hiring process.
MMS has created diversity and inclusion working committees with employees of all levels to help ensure its processes are effective and embedded.
"At the end of the day, we're trying to create an inclusive and diverse workforce where we have views from a broad range of different people," he says.
Benefits of inclusive hiring for Australia as a whole
Annese says inclusive hiring doesn't just benefit the business, it also benefits the country's productivity more broadly.
"It's really important for human beings and for our communities to utilise all the talent that we have," she says.
"People are everything in an organisation; they're the reason your business will succeed or fail.
"If you get the right people that reflect your community and its diversity, you can be successful.
Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published August 2023.