Morally speaking, organisations wish to avoid unfair bias against people from disadvantaged groups, seeking equality of opportunity. Legally speaking, organisations are obligated to avoid discriminating against individuals from legally protected groups. Lastly, commercially speaking, organisations wish to hire the best applicants available to them, and thus wish to avoid screening out high-potential applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In this article, I will outline three ways that psychometric tests can be used to support D&I activities during the recruitment process and ensure fair hiring.
Ethnic diversity is arguably the form of diversity that large organisations are most concerned about. Similarly, within the academic literature regarding D&I and adverse impact in selection, ethnic diversity tends to receive the most attention. There are many potential reasons for this, but it most likely stems from historic oppression of ethnic minorities, and a subsequent need to correct this injustice. Consequently, discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity is illegal, and specific ethnic groups are legally protected from discrimination during the hiring process.
Bias against certain ethnic groups tends to arise at specific stages of the recruitment process. Unstructured employment interviews tend to exasperate adverse impact, especially if the interviewers themselves harbour implicit biases against ethnic minorities. Cognitive ability tests also tend to disadvantage individuals from certain ethnic groups, particularly those who are often excluded from more prestigious educational environments. Although these two forms of assessment are highly predictive of performance in the workplace (Schmidt & Hunter, 199), organisations must consider their effect on selection ratios based on ethnicity.
To help ensure ethnic diversity, organisations should consider including personality questionnaires into the recruitment process. One of the many advantages of personality tests is they tend to show no adverse impact based on ethnicity, making them ideal early-stage screening tools. This allows organisations to short-list without worrying about adverse impact, improving selection ratios and retaining candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Diversity based on Socioeconomic-Status (SES) is another common concern of D&I practitioners. Individuals from higher SES backgrounds enjoy many privileges, granting significant advantages in almost every domain of life. They tend to receive greater levels of education, along with a higher quality of education, setting themselves up well for working life. In the workplace, they tend to hold more valuable social connections, having access to other higher SES individuals in positions of power and influence. Lastly, higher SES individuals have greater access to preparatory resources for employee selection, such as careers services, tutors, and interview coaching, increasing the probability of success.
SES discrimination tends to occur in two main places during the recruitment process. Firstly, having unnecessary academic requirements tends to adversely affect people from lower SES backgrounds. For example, requiring a certain number of UCAS points, or only hiring from prestigious universities are particularly harmful to applicants from low SES backgrounds. Secondly, interviews tend to advantage higher SES background candidates, who are better trained in impression management. Additionally, HR practitioners and hiring managers tend to also come from higher SES backgrounds and are thus likely to recognise them as part of their ingroup and treat them favourably.
The solution to this issue is to rely on cognitive ability tests instead of academic achievements. Research clearly shows that cognitive ability tests, including verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, and inductive reasoning tests, are far more predictive of performance than level of education (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Therefore, educational requirements should only be included if absolutely necessary i.e., requiring a medical degree for a doctor role, or an engineering degree for an engineering role etc. This ensures that unnecessary barriers are lifted, making the assessment process fairer for low SES background candidates.
Neurodiversity is a newer concern of employing organisations, and is related to the inclusion of neurodivergent individuals, which include people with autism and ADHD. Neurotypical people tend to follow unspoken social rules which neurodivergent people are either unware of, or find to be uncomfortable and stifling i.e. shaking hands, sitting still, making eye contact etc. As a result, neuroptypical people tend to discriminate against neurodivergent people, punishing them for breaking these tacit social rules.
Discrimination based on neurodivergence tends to occur in multiple stages of the recruitment process. Firstly, when recruiters use CVs as a talent assessment tool, they often place weight on extracurricular activities and social networks, potentially adversely affecting neurodivergent people. Next, interviews tend to adversely affect neurodivergent candidates, potentially making neurodivergent candidates feel uncomfortable or on the spot. This stage is also very vulnerable to direct discrimination, as interviewers who actively wish to avoid hiring neurodivergent candidates can simply deselect them.
To address these issues, cognitive ability tests should form the basis of early-stage selection decisions, not CVs or interviews. Research shows that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome in particular tend to score as well, or even higher on non-verbal reasoning tests compared to neurotypical people. This will help retain neurodivergent applicants, minimising the impact of implicit, or even explicit bias against neurodivergent candidates from neurotypical HR professionals or hiring managers.