Discrimination during the interview process happens all too often. Whether this occurs unintentionally or not, you need to be aware of how discrimination can happen during an interview and take steps to prevent it. Not only is discrimination ethically wrong, but it is also illegal, and your company could face serious repercussions if a candidate decided to sue.
Types of discrimination in hiring
Discrimination happens when we make assumptions about a candidate based on a number of different things. We need to push past our assumptions and find out if potential employees can perform the job. There are several types of potential discrimination that arise during an interview.
Discrimination around age often comes in wondering if a candidate can keep up with technology, relate to younger customers, or when they intend to retire. It is important to know that, by law, age discrimination begins with those who are 40 and older. Instead of assuming their ability, ask questions about your specific needs and if the candidate has used that technology or has the appropriate training.
This type of discrimination occurs when an employer wonders if a candidate will be a reliable worker or if they will be distracted, able to arrive at work on time, or will need extra time off due to sick kids or other needs related to their family. This also comes into play when employers bypass a pregnant candidate because they don’t want to find coverage during a maternity leave. In the interview, focus on the time commitment for the position and whether they can meet it rather than the reasons they may or may not be able to.
Unconscious bias and assumptions can impact the interview process for candidates from different ethnicities. If the candidate seemed like a potential fit for the position before they arrived for the interview, remember that is the focus of the interview. Discrimination based on ethnicity can also happen earlier in the hiring process, such as when reviewing resumes. Remember to focus on the skills required and whether the candidate has those skills.
Employers may assume a candidate can’t perform the job requirements if they appear to have a disability when they come in for the interview. However, it’s not the interviewer’s job to decide if the candidate can perform the physical requirements of the job. Instead, they should ask each candidate if they can meet the job requirements as outlined in the job posting.
Sometimes hiring managers find that discriminatory thoughts pop into their mind during interviews with candidates. Most people have some degree of unconscious bias, which means it’s going to happen. They may wonder if a person is up to the physical aspect of the job or if their family situation might lead them to need more time off from work. It is important to recognize those thoughts when they occur but then set them aside and not allow them to influence hiring.
The key to avoiding discrimination in the hiring process is to educate those in charge of hiring on potential areas of discrimination and how to avoid them.
During the interview, take charge of the conversation and steer it toward the requirements of the job. Keep questions focused on the job responsibilities and how the candidate fits in with the company. For example, rather than talking about a candidate’s other time commitments, state the job’s time requirements and ask if the candidate can meet them.
If the candidate volunteers any information that might lead to discrimination, like mentioning their family or place of worship, don’t write the information down in your interview notes. Mentally set the information aside and refocus on asking questions surrounding their qualifications for the position. Having a solid job description with clear requirements is an important part of being able to structure the interview this way.
If the job requires some degree of physical strength or ability, that should be outlined in the job description, and candidates should attest that they can meet the physical requirements of the job. Another option is to require a physical exam or physical skills test from each final candidate, just as you might require final candidates to pass a drug test. In fact, both types of tests are often administered by the same contracted companies. This removes the possibility for discrimination based on appearance of physical ability.
Finally, there needs to be caution around the issue of culture fit in a company. While it is true that often a company has a culture and is looking for candidates that fit in well, culture fit cannot be an excuse to discriminate. If you are concerned a candidate is not a good fit, ask yourself if the only reason is because of their age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. If so, then your problem is one of discrimination, not culture. Defining what makes a good fit for your company culture before going into hiring new employees is another way to guard against this. When you have clear expectations and parameters around what your company culture is, it will be easier to define why a candidate is or is not a good fit.
Eliminating discrimination from your hiring process should be a high priority for every company. You want clear job requirements for every position and an interview process that focuses on whether candidates can meet those requirements. Invest in training your hiring managers to recognize potential areas of discrimination and ensure they don’t impact your hiring process.
If you need help assessing your current hiring process and ensuring it focuses on the requirements of the job in order to eliminate discrimination, reach out to the WhyHR team for help.