Discrimination in recruitment is often unintentional – here’s how to avoid it

It’s important that your hiring team are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to equality legislation.

In a recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) case, Nicola Matthews said she was not shortlisted for an interview due to discrimination against her on the grounds of age when she applied for an internal promotion in the Department of Health.

Matthews, a higher executive officer, argued that the selection criteria for the role of assistant principal officer included details from which her age could be easily deduced.

The WRC concluded that unintended indirect age discrimination had taken place under the Employment Equality Acts and ordered the department to provide compensation of €40,000, a significant sum. The WRC also stated the importance of using a transparent marking scheme and providing detailed and meaningful feedback to all candidates.

Recruitment and recruitment-based activities are covered by the Employment Equality Acts so you must ensure your recruitment team are aware of their duties and responsibilities. The act covers nine grounds: age, gender, civil status, sexual orientation, religion, race, disability, family status and membership of the Travelling community.

As a HR team undertaking recruitment activities, you can avoid instances of such direct or indirect discrimination by doing the following.

1. Have a transparent marking scheme

Although it can be challenging to apply a precise score to each written application, the use of a clear marking scheme can show candidates how the selection board evaluated their application in comparison to other candidates.

Using a marking scheme can also encourage the selection boards to apply a higher level of discipline and rigour to evaluating candidates' applications.

2. Provide unconscious bias training

Discriminatory recruitment practice is often unintentional. Unconscious bias can harm equal hiring practices. During CV screening, candidates can provide a large amount of factual and inferred data about themselves, which the selection board may judge and evaluate without realising.

Providing the selection board with training on unconscious bias can ensure that candidates are equally evaluated and employers are protected against potential cases of discrimination. Highlighting and being aware of biases is a crucial part of avoiding discrimination in recruitment activity.

3. Include objective selection criteria

When setting selection criteria for a job, ensure that they are as objective and measurable as possible. This means they should be fair, based on facts that can be measured and not affected by personal opinions.

Using objective criteria is helpful as they can be applied to all candidates and can be easily explained to everyone. Subjective selection criteria can make the application process prone to unconscious bias and discriminatory outcomes.

In the WRC case mentioned above, the claimant stressed that the selection criteria were not objective and were affected by personal opinions.

4. Avoid using identifying information

Don’t ask for details that can divulge identifiable information such as age, race, religion or civil status. Ensure that the selection criteria do not require the candidate to disclose information that can be used as discrimination on the nine grounds mentioned earlier.

You can remove identifying information from CVs by using a technique known as the blind CV and undertaking blind shortlisting. In the Matthews WRC case, the complainant stressed that the selection board could estimate her age, which may have influenced the board’s shortlisting process.

5. Maintain records

Keeping notes and scores ensures transparency. Organisations should keep accurate, sufficiently detailed notes of each application and capture detailed feedback on why each candidate was successful or unsuccessful. The selection board may also note the objective criteria on which a selection decision was reached.

The Data Protection Act allows an unsuccessful candidate to request details from their interview, including interview notes and interview scores. There is no requirement, however, to disclose confidential information such as the name of successful candidates and details of their applications.

During the CV screening process, remember to maintain a record of CVs, application scores and feedback. In the WRC case, the board failed to keep adequate records relating to their reasons for deeming candidates unsuccessful for the interview stage.

6. Provide detailed application feedback

Clear and meaningful feedback should be provided to all candidates highlighting how the board evaluated their application compared to other candidates. Providing a candidate with details on which criteria they did not meet in their application compared to the candidates who were invited to the next stage is also essential.

In the Matthews case, the WRC stressed the importance of the expectation from the recruiting organisation to explain the decision reached but did not require the organisation to provide career development advice to unsuccessful candidates.

Sonya Boyce is head of People Consulting at Mazars in Ireland.