The Talent Scout Episode 60: Using an ATS to promote diverse and equitable recruitment
4 minutes | Posted 18 May, 2021

As recruiters and hiring managers we all have a huge amount of sway over the diversity of our respective organizations through the diversity of the candidates that we progress forwards with. Hopefully it’s a given that promoting a more diverse candidate pool is the right thing to do, but just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t necessarily mean that it is easy. Many of us grew up in communities that looked and acted very similarly to how we do, it would be impossible to grow up in such an environment and not develop unconscious bias. This means pretending that you’re unbiased is not the key to diverse and equitable recruitment. Acknowledging your unconscious bias, working to understand it, and then putting protections in place to mitigate your unconscious bias is actually the best way to promote diverse and equitable recruitment.

Assuming you’re now in a place where you acknowledge and understand your own unconscious bias, that means it’s time to start looking to mitigating your bias. Recruitment technology can be a great way of removing your biases from the overall recruitment process but it has to be noted that technology is a tool and not a solution. Technology can still be subject to our own biases. A great example of this is the viral video of the racist soap dispenser from a few years ago. This piece of technology seemingly would only dispense soap to white people, for everyone else it would ignore them as if they weren’t there. The reason for this is because during testing, only white people had been involved and as such the machine was only able to detect white people. I like this example for two reasons, the first is that it shows our unconscious bias can be built into technology so we need to take care when selecting our technology. The second reason is that this example shows the value of diversity within our teams and organizations, the failure of the soap dispenser to detect different skin tones could have been avoided had people with a variety of skin tones been involved in its development.

While technology isn’t the whole solution it can be a very effective tool for equitable recruitment in the right hands. The best and first place to start is with an applicant tracking system. From screening questions to blind applications to a fair rating and ranking function, an applicant tracking system or candidate management software can give you the tools that you need in order to mitigate your unconscious bias and promote diversity within your talent pipelines.

Promoting diversity with screening questions

One of the greatest selling points of applicant tracking systems is their ability to screen candidates by primarily using a combination of automation and screening questions. While these screening questions are very useful at finding out if a candidate has the experience and qualifications that they’ll need to be successful in the role, screening questions can also be used to promote diversity. How this works is by creating screening questions that actually allow candidates to express their identity. One great way of doing this is to ask a candidate to tell you what their preferred pronouns are. It’s important to make this question optional and free text so that candidates don’t feel pressured to expose their gender identity. As a member of the LGBT community myself, I know that I feel welcomed by an organization when I see them being proactive about recognizing and celebrating preferred pronouns. Another way of using screening questions to promote further diversity can be found in names. Again asking an optional question along the lines of names can be a powerful way to show that your organization is passionate about diversity. An example of this is asking a question that says “If you’re comfortable doing so, please phonetically spell your name. We want to make sure we get your name right when we’re talking to you.” Again, making this question optional prevents people from feeling othered but showcases to them that you are doing the work to make all candidates, regardless of identity or background, feel respected during your recruitment process.

Most applicant tracking systems, including ours at Scout talent, allow you a much more equitable means of rating and comparing candidates than just reviewing resumes and making notes. Typically an applicant tracking system will combine their screening questions with a rating and ranking system. This will allow you to review candidates based on their responses to the same questions and ultimately order them in a much fairer way without being swayed by names, organizations, or educational institutions that are found on a resume.

Blind applications

Many candidate management tools also allow for the concealment of certain candidate information. Concealing information like dates of birth, the names of individuals, educational institutions, and even addresses can make a huge impact on mitigating unconscious bias. Studies have shown individuals who whiten or westernize their names are more likely to be brought forward for interview than when they use the exact same resume with their actual name. Using an applicant tracking system to conceal names until the point of an interview could have a huge impact on the diversity of your recruitment pipeline.

Beyond the screening process

Technology can be a great tool for mitigating our bias within the recruitment process, but at the end of the day it is only a tool and you are eventually going to be meeting people face to face. This means you have to put in the work with diversity training to ensure your team acknowledges and addresses their respective biases. Put in the effort needed so that the diverse talent pipeline you’ve built by using technology has every chance to succeed and thrive within your organization.

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