12 November 2015
This article was written by Connie Cliff in the Employment and Equalities team and first published on Thompson Reuters Accleus on 12 November 2015.
"Hiring the best people for your business is your most important task as a business owner"
Hardly controversial as most businesses will agree that recruiting the right people is fundamental to an organisation's success. But a recruitment process that finds the best person for the job is not always easy.
The recruiters' bias
The recruitment process inevitably relies on human decisions. The hiring process is inherently subjective and informed by personal biases. That is not to say that recruiters set out to impose their personal prejudices in recruitment decisions. Recruiter bias need not be conscious:
- Affinity bias - leads recruiters to like those who are similar to them or someone they like.
- Status quo bias - leads recruiters to feel more comfortable in looking for candidates who are similar to those they have hired before.
We talk about diversity, but given the human propensity for bias we mostly end up hiring people like ourselves in terms of experiences, leisure activities and self-presentation styles.
Name blind pledge
In an effort to champion diverse recruitment, on 26 October the Prime Minister held a roundtable meeting with leading public and private sector employers who have now pledged to recruit on a 'name blind' basis to address discrimination.
The use of name blind applications was recommended in a recent CIPD research report - 'A head for hiring: The behavioural science of recruitment and selection'. The report considers where bias can creep in the recruitment and selection process. The report points out that all too often an emphasis on 'fit' slips into an emphasis on people who are similar in non-relevant ways to existing employees or the decision-maker. It highlights that bias can creep into assessments of CVs. Studies have shown that removing names from CVs and that comparing anonymous CVs/application forms before scoring them can decrease gender and racial bias.
'Botox' you CV?
But what about age bias? Age bias is conspicuous by its absence in the CIPD report.
This is most likely due to the lack of research/data on this issue. Mercer's Age-Friendly Employer Report October 2015, found that 87% of the 69 large employers surveyed carried out no checks on managers' hiring practices for ageism. Of the remaining 13%, more than half found that managers do not hire people older than themselves. In addition, a survey of 25 leading recruitment agencies found 92% have never run an analysis to determine whether their clients discriminate on the basis of age.
Job applicants have long suspected that revealing their true age on their CVs and applications will have detrimental impact. Lisa Johnson Mandell, author of "Career Comeback - Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want", lost her job at the age of 49 and was struggling to find new employment. However, once she made her CV age anonymous she "got responses to resumes within 20 minutes of sending them out and job offers within two weeks".
Even social media companies who are often lambasted for under representation of older workers have recognised that an age flag can be detrimental. LinkedIn - whose average employee age in 2012 was 29 - has recently taken steps to shut down an app that predicts your age. The app, Age-Insights, uses data from users' LinkedIn profile to calculate their age and display it on their LinkedIn profile. It does this by analysing data from public profiles, such as year of university graduation and dates from work experience to give an estimated age.
LinkedIn's legal team reportedly delivered a 'cease and desist' letter to Age-Insights as the app violates their terms of service. LinkedIn also urged anyone who had already downloaded the app to uninstall it. Having had the blatantly obvious potential misuse of the app as an age discrimination tool drawn to his attention, on 16 October the 26 year old inventor of the app reluctantly shut it down.
In recent years there has been an explosion of discussion, press and conference panels in the tech industry recognising a bias against women and minorities. Steps to address this bias are thankfully underway. However, tech industry diversity initiatives continue to ignore the 'older' worker. Reports of would-be Silicon Valley workers undergoing plastic surgery or botox to look younger are common place. As a less drastic measure, older workers should consider instead 'botoxing' their CV by removing reference to their age.
Time for an age-blind pledge?
There is a wealth of evidence that unconscious recruiter bias exists. There are also strong indications, albeit an under researched area, that this extends to an age bias in favour of those younger than the recruitment decision-maker. While the name-blind pledge represents a step towards tackling recruiter bias on the basis of gender and race, why not also an age-blind pledge? For now, older workers may want to consider 'botoxing' their CV!
Follow all about age on twitter @allaboutage
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