The 2010 Equality Act, passed by the UK government 12 years ago, sought to provide a level of protection against harassment and to create more equal opportunities for under-represented groups in the workplace and in wider society.
Since then, much of the business world has embraced digital technologies to boost diversity and inclusion (D&I) and transform the hiring process. Social media and job boards have become essential tools for reaching a larger talent pool and bringing a broader range of experiences into the hiring shortlist.
From CV masking tools to apps that scan gendered terms in job advertisements, artificial intelligence has begun to assist businesses in overcoming human flaws and overcoming unconscious biases.
Perhaps more noticeable is the shift to online recruiting, which has been accelerated by the pandemic and the need to hire remotely simultaneously.
While it is true that D&I improvements have been palpable across organisations since the Equality Act went into effect, many people continue to be left behind in Britain today.
Is technology to blame for the entrenched exclusion?
Perhaps. Employers should exercise caution when relying too heavily on digital solutions to overcome recruitment bias, as technology may, in fact, generate new forms of insidious discrimination.
Consider all of the steps a candidate may be asked to take during the recruitment process, from uploading a CV and cover letter to taking an online assessment or video interview.
We should not assume that everyone is equally prepared to embrace the digital shift.
In fact, government figures from 2021 show the opposite: 21% of UK adults lack essential digital skills for daily life, and only half of the low-income households have home internet access.
So how can we counteract unconscious bias in the digital age?
Recognizing our own prejudices is the first step toward becoming more equitable recruiters. Our minds frequently make intuitive decisions, and we may discriminate against a candidate without even realising it while sourcing, screening, and shortlisting applicants.
To avoid the knee-jerk reaction to the 'wrong' applicant, we must reflect on our biases by asking ourselves questions like, 'When am I more likely to favour someone and downplay someone else?'
Awareness alone will not suffice.
Consider a smoking cessation strategy that simply counts the number of cigarettes you consume each day and leaves it at that.
Concrete actions can be as simple as asking candidates whether any reasonable changes to the application process should be made. If the answer is yes, employers should provide alternatives, such as changing the application format or suggesting that an interview be held in a mutually convenient location rather than online. It is critical to avoid organising activities assuming that all candidates can use or have access to the latest technology.
However, the spectrum of disadvantages is broad and extensive, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to address it. Instead, demonstrating empathy to applicants, anticipating potential barriers, and tailoring our response to their specific needs can be the most advantageous course of action for both parties.
Making a workplace where differences are valued
As technology continues to permeate the recruitment process, we must be cautious not to regard it as the only path to a more equitable workplace.
Rather, recruiters should consider combining innovative digital solutions and their own compassionate nature to truly diversify hiring and create a workplace where differences are celebrated rather than tolerated.