Attitudes to diversity are changing. #BlackLivesMatter is a movement, not a moment. And it’s put recruitment and recruiter bias firmly in the spotlight.

Talent Acquisition leaders across the world are desperately seeking to ascertain whether their hiring practices are fair and inclusive. A range of diversity-friendly tools and training programs are here to help, but as we’ll discover companies need to go far beyond the typical unconscious bias training if they want to create real change.

Recent research from Harvard University has highlighted that diversity training doesn’t actually improve things long term. So we’ve researched five best diversity training alternatives for more inclusive hiring.

Why is diversity hiring important?

I think we all know intuitively that we need to improve diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. Even so, there are reasons to make even the most cold-hearted pragmatist want a more diverse workplace. 

First of all, there’s your employer brand. In a PWC survey of 10,000 Millennials, 80% reported that a diverse workplace was an important factor when deciding if they’re going to work for a company. Diversifying your workplace is essential to stop it becoming stale and old-fashioned; a sure-fire way to scare off younger talent.

Having a workforce made up of people with different backgrounds, ages, life experience, is a great way to ensure you have every skill set and a variety of perspectives. Increased diversity fosters different idealism perspectives and heuristics which can lead to real innovation. There’s also considerable evidence that increasing diversity leads to a real increase in business performance.

According to McKinsey, companies in the top quartiles for gender and ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 15% and 35% respectively. While we know that correlation isn’t the same as causation, it seems that the benefits of a more enjoyable workplace, and a greater range of skills and experiences really does add up to a real advantage in business.

Does diversity training work?

In 2015, Google spent $150 million in diversity initiatives. And recent research found that over a third of UK recruiters intended to increase investment in diversity initiatives.

Diversity training usually takes the form of workshops to make people aware of, and then correct, their own cognitive biases. It’s hugely popular. It’s also largely ineffective at reducing hiring bias.

A study from Harvard found that while diversity training may have had an impact amongst women and ethnic minorities, there was little change in white men (source: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/16/7778).

Another study found evidence to suggest that unconscious bias training even leads to increased age discrimination in recruiting. In this study participants first watched a series of videos about diversity. They were then asked to evaluate a range of job applicants. Those who were instructed to ‘suppress demography-related thoughts’ rated older applicants less positively than their younger counterparts. According to the Journal of Organizational Behaviour, the results suggest that ‘instructions to suppress stereotypic thoughts may have detrimental effects […] if raters are cognitively busy when they implement these instructions.’ (source: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3100397?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents).

Ultimately, unconscious bias training is built on the assumption that awareness of this bias results in positive action; but there’s simply no evidence to support this theory.

So if unconscious bias training has so many flaws, what alternative to diversity training is there for building a more diverse workforce?

The best alternatives to diversity training

“You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”.

James Clear, Atomic Habits.

Systemic problems like hiring bias require systemic solutions, not one-off fixes. Here are 5 better alternatives to diversity training when it comes to recruitment.

1. Use pre-hire assessments

Most bias happens at the top of the hiring funnel. Resumes and job applications carry personal information which presents opportunities for bias. Asking candidates to complete a job-relevant online assessment instead of requesting a resume is a fairer way to identify the most suitable candidates for your vacancy. Candidates are judged on their present ability and future potential rather than their past experience. This method of candidate screening is particularly useful for volume and entry level hiring, since applicants with little or no relevant work experience are notoriously hard to compare.

2. Practice blind hiring

Remove any information that could lead to bias from the job application process. “Character” information on applications, like names, pictures, hobbies and interests should be left off applications. This also prevents potentially discriminatory pre-interview candidate research such as searching for candidates on social media sites.

3. Only permit structured interviews

Unstructured interviews are particularly susceptible to unconscious bias. You can correct this by sticking to job relevant questions, and avoiding questions about the candidate’s background or personal experiences. Questions like, “what’s your biggest weakness” or “tell me about yourself” draw out qualitative answers and only lead you down the path of reaching conclusions based on your own biases.

Read more on structured interviews in our guide to fairer hiring.

4. Start a hiring decision log

Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman promotes a ‘decision log’ as a way to eliminate hindsight bias. He suggests that whenever a strategic decision is made it should be logged publicly, along with the following information:

  1. The rationale behind the decision
  2. The expected outcome
  3. How the decision-maker feels about the situation
  4. A date to revisit the decision and see what happened

When you do this, you begin to identify biases in your thought process and become more effective in decision-making. You’ll also benefit from the decisions of others by being exposed to new mental models: our deeply held beliefs about how the world works that guide your perception and behaviour. When we read more decision logs, we are exposed to more mental modes, and the better our decision making becomes.

5. Keep track of hiring data

Scoring candidates against a robust and documented ideal candidate profile is a good way to improve fair hiring. Keeping these scores and who assessed each new hire will be a way for you to track the effectiveness of your selection process and detect bias in both how candidates are selected and who is selecting them.

Importantly, this data will allow you to improve decision-making based on your findings.

In closing

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that companies are trying to address unconscious bias with training. But why waste your money with ineffective training, when the alternative is to invest in systems to mitigate bias.

These alternatives can hopefully shake up your recruitment process and achieve a more inclusive hiring process.