Avoiding discrimination during the recruitment process

Jai Popat highlights the importance of complying with employment and data protection laws when hiring staff

It is important that all applicants are given a fair chance during the recruitment process – employers that fail to do so will be in breach of the discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010. 

All candidates and employees are protected in terms of discrimination against gender, sexuality, race, religion, marital status, pregnancy status, disability and age. 

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the unfair and unequal treatment of an individual because of a particular protected characteristic, and in terms of recruitment it occurs when an employer selects a candidate for any reason other than their qualifications and experience. 

There are three main types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination – treating someone worse because of a specific trait.
  • Indirect discrimination – implementing rules or policies that have a negative impact on someone because of one of those traits.
  • Harassment – intentionally creating a sustained hostile environment for someone, specifically targeting one of those traits.

Many recruiters or hiring managers can accidentally discriminate against certain groups by using inconsiderate language. 

Some biases are unconscious, unfortunately learned over time. However, hiring professionals should consciously and proactively work to understand and eliminate these biases. From there, additional training can help the rest of the team to create a welcoming atmosphere that anyone can enter and be a part of. 

Sadly, some intentionally and maliciously discriminate against certain groups because of bigotry, which of course is illegal, and should be reported. 

How to make sure you don’t discriminate when hiring

Be objective when describing the necessary skills or experience for the role, and be critical of the language being used to ensure it isn’t carrying any loaded or gendered terms. Outline the skills and use them as a framework to assess all applications. This ensures all candidates are dealt with in the same way. This will also help you stay away from possible discrimination when drafting job adverts. 

Using targeted online ads can also be discriminatory, since targeting specific groups may include biases. It’s best to take a wider approach when advertising a job role, so it can be seen by as many different groups as possible. 

When interviewing applicants, there are certain questions you cannot ask. This includes questions about a candidate’s age, whether they’re planning to have children and whether they’re married – all of these are considered discriminatory. Asking questions about any of the protected criteria could break the law. 

Keep a record of the decisions you made and why, as they can provide evidence, or train new HR members to avoid discrimination. All notes should be objective, firmly grounded in the candidates’ skills and experience. 

Give constructive feedback to any unsuccessful applicants, based around their skills and how they performed in the interview. All of the reasons they weren’t successful should align with the criteria that formed your framework. 

Why you should have a diverse workforce

It’s been proven that diverse workforces are more successful, with higher levels of innovation and creativity. Having a team made of people with different backgrounds gives a business a wider perspective, and shows that the company is a good place for anyone to work. 

Inclusivity is a positive force in the workplace, and should be actively encouraged. 

Jai Popat is head of HR and hiring at VHR Global Recruitment