Anna Whitehouse, founder of the Flex Appeal campaign, has spent the last several years campaigning for women and working mums to be hired and treated without bias in the workplace. And with good reason. In 2019, a widely-shared survey revealed that one in eight employers would be reluctant to hire women who might have children.
Becca Guinchard, Global Account Director at behavioural and motivational assessment company AssessFirst, believes that progress for working women, mums and minorities too often relies on tireless campaigns driven by individuals like Anna. Instead, she believes that a data-driven approach is the only way to eradicate the biases that lead to the overlooking of competent candidates.
Anna’s research – in partnership with Nationwide – during the pandemic, highlighted the great difficulty many working mothers face. Of those surveyed, 42% of respondents reported that they felt undue pressure to perform from employers without regard to their parenting responsibilities. This is why we at AssessFirst have been investing in research and development for so many years in objective people and behavioural analytics – to eradicate biases throughout the talent management lifecycle in work.
As Whitehouse has consistently underlined, employers have a bias – unconscious or otherwise – that disadvantages mothers, or women that may have children in the near future. At the same time as Whitehouse launched her latest campaign concerning flexible working for mothers, the journal Demography published its study where in over 2,210 fictitious identical job applications, the ‘candidates’ without children received consistently higher rates of call-backs across all sectors. In no sector did mothers receive more or equal call-backs.
After this year’s delay to gender pay gap reporting, some workplaces have not yet implemented adjustments to encourage women back into the workplace post-maternity or facilitate childcare with flexible working policies. The rate of progress is still far too slow.
But this goes beyond gender and maternal responsibilities. The biases that discriminate against mothers can be logically applied to other underrepresented groups. We must stop focusing on the results of bias, turning attention instead to the bias present in recruitment and management itself.
I believe that a systemised process of recruitment, supported by objective data and fairly implemented artificial intelligence, will enable working mothers and the underrepresented to be more included. Applied as standard across all business sectors, this would provide a truly equal workplace, where value is attributed to motivation, potential and ability rather than only experience.
Conventional methods of hiring and recruitment often rely on the CV to indicate candidate ability.
As humans, we can never be sure that we are making decisions that best meet the objectivity of a given task. This is especially true during the hiring process, where we are potentially making hundreds of decisions and judgments in a narrow timeframe based on the information contained within a CV and one or more limited interview encounters.
This is not about bad recruiters and good recruiters. Taking the example of working mothers and the Demography article, did all 2,210 companies consciously discriminate against working mums? It seems unlikely. I would suggest that the biases are deeply hidden, causing the alarming discrimination uncovered through the report.
A data-driven approach to hiring removes bias and provides opportunities for individuals regardless of age, gender, religion, social status and education, disability, or skin colour.
One of the biggest criticisms of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives that I encounter from the general population, especially in areas of high unemployment, is that these policies have become synonymous with ‘box ticking’: ensuring minorities are favoured during hiring campaigns – which leaves many working families feeling disenfranchised and disadvantaged. We must change the narrative to be less about equality and more about performance so that we can simultaneously drive diversity without undermining the value of the demographics that will benefit the most.
Focusing on behavioural data, businesses will be able to confidently predict the performance of their new recruits and better manage their workforces. Working with companies who leverage technology in this way, I see that performance levels increase; diversity levels increase as a natural consequence. Embedding science into this process rather than instinct is a more sustainable way to tackle this issue.
Consider that the largest demographic in the workforce, Millennials want companies to align with their values. And Gen Z, entering the workforce now, believe good company values are the most important element of the workplace – and those values include diversity and representation.
If businesses are looking to the future and looking to secure new talent, they must focus on their culture now.
Implementing a technology-led recruitment process means businesses and candidates know that they are operating on a fair playing field: where people strategies do not discriminate against a single demographic; that they were hired due to their ability, skillset, and personality.
When you think about the future of work in these terms, the considerations of a woman’s present or future family life seems almost inconsequential in regard to her ability to be hired and developed in a role.