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Unconscious bias: The gender pay gap is created as soon as a role opens up

Matt Holmes, chief commercial officer at hackajob

With the second gender pay gap reporting deadline last week, the UK’s largest businesses (250 employees or above) had to publicly disclose the difference between their average male and female employees’ earnings – mean and median rather than hourly rates. A disappointing 78% of companies disclosed a gap in favour of men –14% favoured women and the remaining 8% showed no gender pay difference. The figures reveal the big challenge (and historical skew) looming over businesses in order to ensure the best talent is hired for their roles, irrespective of gender.

There are a multitude of ways companies can tackle their current gender pay gap – training and employee engagement programmes, equal parental benefits and access programmes being just a couple. But ultimately, I think bias starts before anyone’s “got the job” - with the CV and even the job spec. The way to truly tackle the gender pay gap in years to come is to investigate and challenge impartiality at all stages of hiring. Recruiters around the world want to place the best candidates, regardless of gender, and the pay gap reporting is a timely reminder to re-evaluate your potentially unconsciously biased talent attraction and recruitment processes.

Eliminating bias in businesses of all sizes

Unconscious bias affects all of us – there are over 150 types of identified bias – and it’s part of our human nature to approach new people or situations and categorise them based on experience. While this is normal, it can be hugely damaging to workplaces if those categorisations are ill-informed and it’s essential to recognise its potential impact on the hiring process. The gender pay gap reporting provides bigger companies with a very public yearly impetus to consider the biases affecting their workforce, and while this year’s figures were disappointing, it was good to not see any spikes or trends that could suggest positive discrimination was taking place en masse in these larger companies.

Regardless of company size, it’s of the utmost importance to consider how meritocratic your hiring procedures are and implement unconscious bias training for employees. Unbiased hiring is something that the UK’s small and fast scaling businesses are also in a fantastic position to implement, champion and reap the benefits of - with a more diverse workforce.

But it shouldn’t stop there. Diversity levels should be continuously tracked, as well as staff turnover – and it should be benchmarked to companies of similar sizes in the industry.

The gender pay gap has no quick fix – it requires constant scrutiny and consideration.

The biased hiring lifecycle

It is vital that unconscious bias and equality training for recruiters and employers doesn’t become a ‘tick box’ exercise; recruiters must investigate prejudice at all stages and break down diversity levels across each part of the hiring and talent management pipeline. This spans the assessment and onboarding procedures that follow any recruitment search beginning. If you are reviewing potential candidates on their CV alone, I encourage you to stop, immediately. Such a strategy is intrinsically flawed: regardless of industry, having such clearly identified, gendered and profiled candidates means the process is open to subjectivity.

The key word is meritocracy. Can you look at the hiring approaches made and say there’s been truly no bias? The way to analyse this is to consider the level of human input at the CV-or skills screening stage as well as in writing the job specification.

There are platforms that use technology to counter partiality at the very first stages of hiring: From the job spec to how the CV is presented to a potential employer. Proper skills testing conducted by AI and online tests also help to remove the subjectivity that can be particularly damaging when technically-complex roles are being filled. That’s not to say technology should take over the entire cycle – but AI has a huge place in the recruitment process to really challenge issues facing diversity in the workplace.

This cannot stop when a new hire joins a role – the onboarding process must be examined to remove as much bias as humanly possible.

In time, this will not only help with addressing gender pay gap and equality, but genuinely encourage a more diverse and mutually beneficial workforce for the company.

Championing diversity

Gartner recently reported that highly inclusive organisations are 120% more capable of reaching financial targets and generate 140% more revenue. There’s a clear and extensively researched cause and effect between diversity and commercial potential.

hackajob conducted research into gender diversity in the technology sector last year. There’s a huge lack of female developers – industry averages record just 9% of women in these roles. This doesn’t accurately reflect the number of skilled women who want the job though - on average we have a more gender-balanced candidate pool applying for developer roles, of 22% women and 78% men. It showed that there was a clear pool of interested, talented individuals and highlighted the importance of the recruiter’s role in helping address widespread imbalances that are to some degree endemic.

This comparison can be drawn across the full range of sectors: From aviation to accountancy, the internal and external recruitment function must be thinking about what they can do to constantly address inherent bias and ensure they are hiring the best, most productive and innovative candidates.   

There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of unconscious bias training to address last week’s pay gap reporting. This should be seen as positive, but it’s crucial to think one step further and analyse how bias affects every part of the hiring process. It all starts with the potentially skewed view of skills, potential and value presented by businesses’ job descriptions – and on a candidate’s CV.

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