How to know if you’re being discriminated against during the hiring process

Workplace discrimination has been a hot topic in the news; but how do you identify discrimination when trying to secure that dream job?

DiversityQ spoke with to Jessica Newman at Vid Cruiter to find out how you tell if you’re really being given a fair chance when applying for new jobs. This is what she had to say…

Imagine you’re in a job interview and you can’t shake the feeling that you’re being discriminated against. Is it all in your head? Or is something more sinister going on during the recruitment process?

The Goal of Increased Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace

In response to mass cultural shifts such as Black Lives Matter and the #metoo movement, many organisations are marketing themselves as equal opportunity employers that value diversity and inclusion within their workforce. And yet, despite the many studies that have proven the value of diversity in the workplace, racism, sexism, ageism and other forms of hiring bias abound.

Here are some red flags that may indicate discrimination during the hiring process—as well as some actions employers and candidates might want to consider to combat this problem.

Discriminatory job descriptions

Job listings should include the expected amount of experience, education, and skills required for the position. If it doesn’t directly relate to the job, it should not be included in the advertisement. Period. Otherwise, employers may unknowingly find themselves in hot water.

Discriminatory language in job ads could include wording that:

  • Implies a gender preference
    • Employers should be looking for a sales representative, not a salesman
    • Words like “waitress” suggest the employer would prefer a female candidate, while “wait staff” is gender-neutral
  • Favours those of a certain age
    • Entry-level position is better than explicitly writing “looking for a recent graduate”
  • Suggests someone must belong to a certain nationality, instead of simply fluently speaking a required language for the job
    •  “Must speak Spanish” is okay, but “must be Hispanic” is not

Risky automation during the recruitment process

Artificial intelligence (AI) and other automated software pose some serious ethical, legal, and privacy concerns in recruitment. Technology has not advanced to the point of employers being able to confidently use these tools as part of the hiring process because unintended discrimination can seep in.

AI is dangerous as it is “prone to misunderstanding meaning and intent [largely because of] the vast cultural and social variations in how people express themselves.” So make no mistake: while employers may be tempted to adopt what on-the-surface appears to be a time-saving measure, AI can be just as biased as humans. It can also be a huge legal misstep.

Unfair job interview questions

Prejudice too often appears in the form of microaggressions and inappropriate interview questions such as “are you planning on starting a family?”. Interviewees are under no obligation to answer questions of this nature, as they do not in any way relate to one’s ability to do a job well. They do, however, toe the line of discriminatory hiring practices.

If you find yourself in this situation, try to determine the interviewer’s intentions. Do they seem genuinely curious? Are they simply making small talk and/or trying to find commonalities? Or do they appear more motivated by how your answer to the question might negatively impact your work (such as having to take time off for sick children or school activities)? This is of course just one example of a potentially discriminatory interview question, but typically anything related to the below is off-limits:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race
  • Religion

What to do if you think you’ve experienced discrimination as a job candidate

Hiring discrimination is difficult to prove. But if you’re well-qualified for a position and you don’t get a job offer because of suspected discrimination, you have a few options:

  • Document any shifts in attitude or behaviour from those representing the employer throughout the hiring process. After all, you need sufficient evidence that you’ve been discriminated against.

  • Ask for feedback about your interview and why you were not selected for the role. Unfortunately, however, most employers don’t share specific reasons; they’ll simply say they chose to move forward with another candidate who was a “better fit.”

  • File a claim with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The EOC oversees employment discrimination claims, including hiring discrimination, against protected classes.

  • Take your complaints to court. Start by contacting an attorney with experience handling hiring discrimination cases, but beware: litigation can be time-consuming and expensive.

Working to create unbiased, welcoming hiring practices

Since HR managers, hiring teams, and recruiters act as the gatekeepers to employment, the responsibility falls mostly on them to create and adhere to procedures that minimise bias during the hiring process.

Here are a few ways employers can work to achieve a fair hiring experience for all:

  • Structured interviews are scientifically proven to reduce hiring bias; they have a predictive validity of 62%, twice that of unstructured interviews.
  • Unconscious bias training also works well, especially when it is centred around real-life workplace situations and includes buy-in from leadership.

  • Two or more people should interview candidates to provide different perspectives on job applicants. Involving multiple individuals also allows one person to take detailed meeting minutes and document the steps taken in the selection process. Better yet, record the interviews (with the candidate’s permission) or digitise the entire hiring process. This can help defend employer’s choices should they ever be called into question.

In today’s increasingly complex employment environment, it’s more important than ever for employers to practice due diligence. They must remain fully compliant with hiring regulations, which differ depending on the jurisdiction; to mitigate the risk of potential discrimination during the recruitment process, employers are advised to keep an open mind, put themselves in job applicants’ shoes, and seek legal counsel.
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