Article · 6 minute read

Less Intuition, More Data: Leveraging Assessment Data to Better Support D,E&I

By Hannah Mullaney – Managing Consultant – 11th October 2021

Diversity, equity and inclusion continues to be majorly imperative…
  • Robert Walters D&I Strategy Reports cites that “Twice as many professionals (64%) are aware of their employer’s diversity & inclusion initiatives, compared to 2019″. We are seeing an increase in awareness not just in the media but also amongst employees.
  • Research from McKinsey & Co continues to demonstrate the value of diversity in terms of organizational performance. More gender-diverse and ethnically-diverse organizations are respectively 15% and 35% more likely to deliver better financial returns than the industry average.
A failure to initiate change is becoming less tolerable…
  • Legal & General and the CBI are both demanding a minimum level of board diversity in FTSE100 firms and the NASDAQ is also saying organizations could face being delisted if diversity standards are not up to scratch.

  • Coca-Cola threatened to withhold fees from law firms failing to meet minimum diversity requirements. Senior vice-president and global general counsel Bradly M Gayton stated in a letter to lawyers: “We will no longer celebrate good intentions of highly unproductive efforts that haven’t and aren’t likely to produce better diverse staffing…we are no longer interested in discussing motivations, programs, or excuses for little to no progress – it’s the results that we are demanding and will measure going forward.”
Meaningful action is blocking meaningful change
  • 12% of companies hold managers responsible for recruiting diverse candidates
  • 75% of companies do not have DEI included in leadership development
  • 11% of recruiters are evaluated based on sourcing from underrepresented talent
  • 32% of companies mandate any form of DEI training for employees

There is still a long way to go on diversity, equity and inclusion within the world of work. It is an extremely broad and wide-ranging issue, for which there is no silver bullet. We help organizations leverage assessments to improve the fairness and objectivity of their practices to support better D,E & I outcomes across the talent cycle.

We can:

    • help ensure the pipelines of candidates and eventual new hires to an organization remain diverse
    • help create a culture of inclusivity and equal opportunity for development
    • Identify and develop leaders who understand how to leverage their impact and manage their risks to create a fair and inclusive culture

This article shares our most common experiences and observations. Whilst we talk primarily about the context of hiring and recruitment, many of the ideas translate to the world of performance management, promotion and leadership identification. 

The 'Coffee-and-Chat' Conundrum

This isn’t a new phenomenon but surprisingly it is still one of the most common things we come across at the middle level of an organization and it is a huge issue: recruitment via coffees and chats. Many organizations we work with have robust, engaging recruitment processes for their early careers programs and in-depth, vigorous assessment for hiring at leadership level. All of this hard work and expense is, however, often then undone with nothing other than a coffee and a chat supporting the recruitment of experienced hires. It is risky business! One client told of how their shop-floor staff had to jump through four times as many hoops as middle managers.    

Where there is no rigor and objectivity in hiring and development, you create a breeding ground for bias. The similar-to-me bias is probably the most rampant. Even if you think you are interviewing objectively, the chances are that you aren’t. In her book ‘Invisible Women’, Caroline Criado Perez references how research shows that the more you believe you are objective and not sexist, the less objective and more sexist you are likely to be. Similarly, Daniel Kahneman also found that interviewer confidence is not a predictor of interview effectiveness. These challenges spill into promotion processes too and research has found that evaluation tends to favor the dominant group (usually white, cis, able-bodied males in many organizations or at least on decision making panels).

Criado Perez cites a study looking at performance reviews in US tech companies (N=248) that found how differently men and women can be evaluated.  First of all, the study found that women were more likely to receive negative feedback than men. Secondly, the language used in feedback provided to men and women was strikingly different.  Words and phrases used in feedback for women were: “watch your tone”, “step back”, “bossy”, “abrasive”, “strident”, “aggressive”, “emotional”, “irrational”.  Of all of these words, only “aggressive” appeared in men’s reviews, and in two cases the messaging was suggesting that the individual should be more so. 

See the theme emerging? Left to our own devices, without tools that systemize, structure and objectify our decision-making processes, we will never conquer the diversity gap. It is time to start holding ourselves accountable and doing things differently.

So how do you do things differently?

One of the main challenges recruitment leaders are trying to tackle is a shift from transactional servicing to value-adding servicing of the organization. Assessment is where recruiters can start to add real value. Clients we have worked with, training their internal recruitment teams in the use of psychometrics, tell us how powerful this can be. 

1. Bring assessment as far forward in the process as possible

It is already well known that the more you can bring assessment forward in a recruitment process, the better value it provides in terms of ROI. However, bringing it forward also helps deliver better D&I outcomes at the end. 

If coffees and chats happen before assessment, there is often a commitment to hire that person and an assessment profile that shows limited fit is going to be problematic from the hiring managers perspective – in their view, it has given them a problem, rather than useful information. In our experience, this is what often ends up giving assessment a bad name. And, given the chance, most hiring managers will choose to ignore the objective data in favor of their ‘gut feel’, which will of course be wrought with bias. 

The best processes put assessments right in the forefront so that hiring managers only see people who are likely to be a good fit for the role. This doesn’t only solve the problem of a hiring manager being given a problematic profile for a candidate they are already sold on, but it ensures that any diversity in the candidate pipeline can be retained for longer, increasing the likelihood of better D&I outcomes in hiring. 

2. Be strict…really, really strict

There can be pushback from the business if they see an assessment process as an unnecessary gateway, so recruiters need to have the confidence to be the masters of their processes. Where we see most success is where recruiters are really strict on the process and mandate that every potential hire needs to go through it.  One client told us that this approach got push back for about a month before line managers started to realize the value of it – it’s the old ‘change behavior and attitudes will follow’ adage. 

3. Get your candidates to go incognito

Back in the 1970s, the New York philharmonic orchestra decided to do something about the fact that they had no female musicians.  They applied a simple solution of putting up a screen between the audition panel and the auditioning musician so that the musician could only be heard and never seen. Over the course of the next decade, they increased the percentage of female musicians from 0% to 50%.  A stark illustration of the impact our biases can have!

There are a lot of organizations trying to do similar with CVs, for example by removing names and other biodata. However, there is often still information left on CVs that can give an indication of factors that could leave some groups at a disadvantage. Class is one such factor, which can be gauged by the school or university we went to, or even the hobbies that we partake in. 

In a study run out of the US, two versions of the same CV were sent out to over 80 law firms.  Version A included hobbies that were considered ‘highbrow’, like golf, whilst version B included hobbies that were considered ‘lowbrow’, like soccer. Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the ‘highbrow’ CVs got significantly more call backs than the ‘lowbrow’ CVs. Many CVs still have hobbies on them and many candidates are still asked about their interests at interview. This is potentially very problematic. 

It is, of course, almost impossible to re-create a completely incognito candidate experience as final stages of a recruitment process generally include an interview with the hiring manager.  Though what assessment allows you to do is run an incognito process to screen out unsuitable candidates so that hiring managers only see individuals who are likely to do a good job; this is how you significantly reduce the risk of making a bad hire. 

4. Consider class and socio-economic factors

A Google search returns significantly fewer hits on class and socio-economic status than it does on gender or ethnicity within the context of the world of work. It is, perhaps, the final frontier in terms of biographical taboos. 

Our experience is that most organizations don’t look at this, but it can be done. One organization we worked with gathered data on whether candidates had received free school meals as a way to gauge socio-economic status. They were then able to monitor this group throughout the recruitment process and identify where elements of the process were disproportionately knocking out those candidates. By making changes, they were able to ensure their pipeline retained the same proportion of these candidates at the end of the process as it had at the start. 

5. Consider the impact of hybrid-working

This is applicable more within the context of promotion and internal hiring than external recruitment, but we are seeing more and more evidence come to light highlighting the importance of ‘being seen’ when it comes to promotions.  There is a risk here that true flexibility in terms of allowing staff to choose where and when they work actually sends D&I backwards, at least until we reach equality in terms of caring responsibilities.  It is highly likely that women, who for now still take the lion’s share of the unpaid work associated with the household and family life, choose to work from home more than men, because it makes school runs easier, for example.  What this means, however, is that these women are less likely to be physically seen, compared to their male counterparts and consequentially, according to the research, less likely to be promoted. 

Organizations can counter this by ensuring there is structure and robustness around promotion processes. For large-scale programs where individuals are being identified to go onto learning or leadership development programs, we advocate for self-nomination, followed by a transparent, robust and fair assessment process, with clear feedback for all. We have clients that create roles on decision-making panels that are specifically there to ask the question “Why not her instead of him?” – equality sentinels if you will.  Even just ensuring managers and leaders have an awareness of the issue can also be helpful. 

Another solution is to not allow complex flexibility and instead mandate that a certain number of office days are required per week. If you go down this route, you would need to think carefully about your comms and explain why you are doing it – i.e. that letting things run completely flexibly just breeds bias. Then, of course, you would need to gather the data to monitor trends so that you can understand what is happening within your organization, mitigate against any risks and ensure you are maximizing D&I outcomes.

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about the issues in this article and how Saville Assessment can help support your D, E & I strategy, you can connect with Hannah on LinkedIn or email her at [email protected].