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Recruiting the best fit people for a wealth industry business brings with it a multitude of challenges at each stage of the recruitment process. 

Discrimination is one of those challenges and is an important issue that is often overlooked by both candidates and hirers. It can occur during each stage of the recruitment process from the initial phase of considering the requirements for the role through to making the final hiring decision.

When it comes to making recruitment decisions discrimination of one form or another will inevitably rare it’s head and if not identified and properly addressed may lead to a hiring decision that may not only breech anti-discrimination legislation but could also deprive your company of high performance employees.

Discrimination shackles our thinking to preconceived ideas that mar our ability to make an impartial decision about the merits of a candidate. Often discrimination is not overt with many employers not even consciously recognizing that they may have a bias.

The most common forms of discrimination are:

  • Gender ‘Our team is a bit blokey and adding a woman would stifle the camaraderie within the team’ or ‘We’ve tried women before and it didn’t work out – soon as they settled in they either got pregnant or wanted flexible working hours that didn’t work for our business.
  • Age – ‘They’re too old and wouldn’t have the energy that’s required in this role or ‘We have a young client base who wouldn’t identify with an older team member
  • Disability – ‘We don’t have the support someone with a disability would need’ 
  • Ethnicity ‘We like to employ people who have the same backgrounds and values as our own’.

Identifying discrimination in the recruitment process

The position description – While the introduction of anti-discrimination laws has made it more difficult to show overt discrimination when it comes to writing a position description, it is often in how messages are conveyed. While including a candidate’s required range age or gender have been relegated to the past there are some issues that can be discriminatory even if they don’t technically breech anti-discrimination laws. 

Examples of discrimination that may be included in a position description:

  • Including a specific number of years’ experience may deter candidates who have the required capabilities but have not been able to demonstrate them over the requisite period.
  • Requiring a narrow range of qualifications which may preclude good candidates with relevant alternative qualifications.
  • Roles that may be suitable for part time workers/job sharers are designated as full time roles with no time flexibility. This may exclude candidates with relevant experience from applying for the role as they are seeking more flexible working arrangements.
  • Seeking people to join a young dynamic team excludes mature candidates who have successful track records of delivery and who could potentially provide valuable experience that could boost team performance.

In times past it was a common occurrence for employers to add in requirements regarding gender, religion and age and it was also commonplace for applicants to be told that they were unsuitable on these grounds. While discrimination on the basis of a candidate’s religion has been relegated to the past biases related to age, gender, ethnicity and disability remain.

When it comes to qualifying candidates pre-interview, making an assessment at interview and making the final employment decision then there remains the opportunity for discrimination to play a part. 

Pre-interview – This is the initial vetting stage where candidate’s suitability is judged on the basis of their application letter and CV. Age discrimination is enabled through the CV where it isn’t difficult to work out with reasonable accuracy a candidate’s age. Gender is a given as the applicant’s identity is provided. Race can also be identified particularly if the candidate is from a geographical region or country that has a high proportion of a particular ethnicity. Disability may also be identified through specialized training/support programs the candidate has been enrolled in.

• Interview – What some would think were innocuous questions can be discriminatory and breech anti-discrimination laws. Questions relating to woman’s family situation where the interviewer is attempting to ascertain whether the candidate is planning to have a family and at what stage are not an uncommon occurrence. While it is understandable that an employer is interested in knowing the commitment of the candidate to the role it is unacceptable to ask questions designed to draw out a candidate’s personal circumstances in this regard.

Candidates that are in their fifties can find they are asked questions about their ability to cope with the demands of a role – questions that would not necessarily be asked of younger candidates. Age discrimination is a major area of discrimination and often it is hard to identify as most of it is unspoken and often denied by employers even those that do discriminate against older workers for fear of being held to account.

At age fifty an IT systems analyst was asked at interview if he had a laptop; the inference being that as he had reached middle age he was old school and wouldn’t be a suitable fit for the role he was being interviewed for.

Candidates with disabilities may find they are asked questions focused on how they would cope working in a business that has few or no formal support mechanisms to help transition them in to the business and little on going support. While often there may be no intention to discriminate, concerns for the welfare of the candidate can turn in to reasons for them not to be considered for a role.

•  Employment decision – This is the point where candidates are reviewed post interviews and an assessment is made of the most relevant candidate for the role. Gender, ethnicity, age and disability could possibly fall part of the decision and while in many cases discrimination will be excluded from the decision there will be times where it does.

While the financial services sector has a relatively high level of awareness about the issue of discrimination with large organisations having human resources practitioners who are well versed in not only the legislative aspects but also have adopted policies designed to actively combat discriminatory practices. However, SME’s often don’t have these resources and can find this to be a difficult issue to deal with effectively.

While it is never possible to completely rid the industry from discrimination while there are those who bring their biases and prejudices with them to the recruitment process there are steps companies can take to raise awareness.

In part two of this article we will cover the design of a recruitment strategy that will provide guidance as to how to recruit the best fit candidates for your business while avoiding discriminatory practices.

By Peter Dawson