Discovering New Clues to Creating a Diversified Workforce

If you’re committed to diversifying your workforce, look beyond the candidates with college degrees and beyond automated recruiting systems.

diversity in the workplace- training magazine

If you’re committed to diversifying your workforce, you should look beyond the candidates with college degrees and beyond the algorithms and other automated recruiting processes that have grown in recent years. Why? Because these tools don’t necessarily work.

Amazon, for example, used artificial intelligence designed to give job candidates scores ranging from one to five stars. In 2018, the company scrapped the system after discovering it wasn’t rating candidates for software developer jobs and other technical posts in a gender-neutral way. Women were frequently shut out.

As many as 30 million American workers without four-year college degrees have the skills to move into jobs that pay — on average — 70 percent more than their current jobs, according to a December 2020 New York Times article. When a college degree is considered the key measure of skills, these otherwise qualified workers are shut out.

And MIT professor Danielle Li found that the design of a hiring algorithm can impact diversity outcomes. Li studied the supervised learning approach, which often isused by vendors of machine-learning-based hiring tools. That approach was intended to improve hiring rates, “but at the cost of virtually eliminating Black and Hispanic representation.” She said, “This underscores the importance of algorithmic design in labor market outcomes.”

Increasing Diversity in Recruiting Practices

In a world driven by technology while trying to stay safe during a pandemic, what’s the answer? If you want to increase diversity, then you need to be more open to measuring skills versus college degrees, which minorities can be less likely to have.

Technology can be leveraged to remove data from applications that skew for or against a job seeker. Once applicants are screened, pre-employment testing can boost diversity hiring goals by focusing on skills alone.

Removing references that might identify an applicant’s characteristics, such as personal data and university/college names, will further diversity. It’s a critical first step in hiring without bias. There are candidates, however, who know how to customize their applications to meet screening criteria. In these cases, less-than-stellar job seekers make it through the initial screening.

We also find that application processes optimized for mobile reach a wider audience. Glassdoor found that almost 60 percent of applicants are looking for and applying to jobs with their smartphones. When pre-employment testing advances the job seeker further in the hiring process, employers are more likely to access a wider, more diverse talent pool.

It’s worth the effort. Businesses small and large realize the value of removing bias from the hiring process and building more inclusive teams. McKinsey finds that more diverse organizations are 25 percent more likely to generate above-average profitability.

For qualified workers wanting to not be shut out of the hiring process, there is hope for unlocking economic mobility. This hope is linked to employers — including the federal government — focusing more on skills that can be measured in job-screening tests, and not just applicants’ academic credentials.

For example, federal agencies now are instructed to focus on the skills job seekers possess, rather than on whether or not they hold a college degree. The Office of Personnel Management requires agencies to use skills-based assessments to decide whether someone is minimally qualified.

Emphasizing Skills

In addition to opening opportunities for economic mobility, the increased emphasis on skills makes sense, considering some of our most celebrated entrepreneurs (such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg) built their companies and fortunes without a college degree. Another recent study, “The predictive power of university pedigree on the graduate’s performance in global virtual teams,” found that graduates of top-ranked universities performed only nominally better than those from more average colleges.

College degrees remain valuable. Graduates with a Bachelor’s degree typically earn 66 percent more than those with only a high school diploma and are far less likely to face unemployment. However, by shifting the focus toward skills and new ways of measuring them, federal agencies and private companies can open up opportunities for advancement to many more Americans.

When pre-employment testing advances the unbiased hiring process, candidates who have the skills, experience, and talent can move through testing with ease. Those who exaggerate their background are eliminated. When recruitment professionals leverage tests to pre-qualify, bias is further removed. Skills are the only criteria, which creates a more level playing field for all.

Ken Crowell is founder and CEO of EmployTest, which has helped more than 7,000 corporate and government organizations to remotely pre-screen applicants for the best hiring choices.