Far from being a useful skill, our ability to think quickly, combined with unconscious bias and social mobility challenges are preventing diversity in recruitment, according to a panel of experts who spoke at a seminar organised by WCN, the leading UK and global e-Recruitment software provider.

Over 40 major organisations including HSBC, the Ministry of Justice, HMRC and Royal Mail Group, gathered at the Victory Services Club, London, to hear the latest developments in improving diversity in recruitment. The speakers included Dan Robertson, Diversity & Inclusion Director, Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion and Philip Wilson, Chief Psychologist & Chief Assessor, Civil Service Fast Stream who shared views on the diversity challenge and reaching out to under-represented groups. Mark Houlihan, Business Development Manager at WCN then addressed ‘How e-Recruitment technology can help’.

Robertson stated that we all have a habit of fast thinking – which quickly leads to poor decisions and bias. Unconscious bias is triggered and enacted upon in between 30 and 100 milliseconds. In contrast conscious thinking takes 300 milliseconds to even begin processing.

Robertson also talked about how most of us have a bias blind spot; we can see everyone else’s bias, but not our own. “Affinity bias, leads us to favour people who are like us. It creates commonness which leads to comfort and this leads us to assume competence, as we resonate with the individual. It is this issue that affects all the diversity issues such as gender, ethnicity, social background, accent, nationality, sexual orientation and disability,” he remarked.

“We look to confirm our initial impressions and expectations, screening out information which does not fit the expectation and filling gaps with our default information. For a de-bias approach companies need to consider how ambiguous the information was that helped form that impression of the candidate. Where applicable, each interviewer should score the candidate independently, before all scores are compared by the panel as a whole. Plus there should be no pressure when making the decision.”

Philip Wilson, Chief Psychologist & Chief Assessor, Civil Service Fast Stream agreed that our unconscious blind spots play a major part in recruitment issues, but also restricted social mobility is a major contributor and acts as a barrier to professional progression. “Although the trend is declining”, stated Wilson. “Socio-economic barriers prevent companies from recruiting from a wider pool.”

Wilson demonstrated this by showing that despite a small proportion of UK population attending public or independent schools, 75% of UK judges are from such schools, and the same is true for top barristers (68%) and medics (51%).

“Promoting diversity has many elements and can be a complex challenge for any organisation, but new interventions like social media will attract a wider cross section. The proportion of minorities on Facebook is increasing,” remarked Wilson.

Wilson went onto explain how the Civil Service is working to create a representative workforce. Trying to reach out to those who would not otherwise consider a career in government, it has carried out a summer diversity programme giving minority groups project-related work, ranging from research, to shadowing senior civil servants and attending critical meetings.

“The department’s appraisal of the interns was positive, and the project-related work received great feedback with 85% stating they would apply for a job at Civil Service Fast Stream,” added Wilson.

Mark Houlihan, Business Development Manager at WCN explained how e-Recruitment technology has the ability to make recruitment more accessible to disabled candidates. Candidates can complete much of the job seeking process from the comfort of their home environment, or apply via a Guaranteed Interview Scheme within the system.

“Just as you must design your website to be viewable in a variety of web browsers, you must also design it to be readable by a variety of screen readers – applicants should be able to adjust the text size, and screen contrast. Plus the solutions can be configured up to AAA accessibility – making the web content accessible to people with disabilities.” said Houlihan.

Lastly he made the point that e-Recruitment is not only key to providing MI to measure the success of any diversity programmes, but facilitates the identification of diversity issues in real time so reasonable adjustments can be made within the current recruitment process – giving fair access to all.