DE&I Process Audits to Accelerate Change – New Research
- DE&I performance has been slowing recently.
- 300 pages of new research expose some critical failings of DE&I.
- We have been focused on the outcomes but not so much on the processes.
- By auditing the process that has the greatest impact on DE&I, we can accelerate change.
Recently I published a 300-page book of research referencing over 100 scientific papers following interviews with over 1700 leaders. This research focused on how current hiring and promotion processes for managers and leaders are out of date and out of touch with the modern diverse workplace.
To date, companies have been promoting their commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) with varying degrees of follow-through and success. However, little effective work has been done in changing the processes that ultimately affect these outcomes. How do we know this? DE&I is all about people. The only way a person can work in a company is by being hired or promoted. The processes by which candidates are hired and promoted haven’t changed in decades. We’re still writing the same terrible job ads, and we’re still using behavioral competency interviews from the 1970s and ineffective misleading psychometric tests.
When considering these processes, DE&I impacts organizations by widening the talent pool of candidates for hiring or promotion. Widening the talent pool means more people from different backgrounds are afforded the opportunity to grow their careers where they may not have previously. Furthermore, a wider talent pool leads to a statistically greater chance of having more qualified candidates to choose from.
If DE&I is not progressing as well as a company desires, it should turn to its processes to evaluate what is going wrong. In particular, the talent attraction methods, shortlisting processes, and interview methods, all need to be revised. To date, this is not what has been happening. We’ve largely left these processes untouched and, instead, blamed our unconscious biases and sought to do whatever we can to cover up these supposedly corrupt invisible forces. This is not a solution; it’s a poorly researched diagnosis and a Band-Aid for a bone fracture.
The overall goal should be to remove as many of the barriers as possible that get in the way of great candidates progressing regardless of their various identities. In order to be truly inclusive, the question should be, “How does every candidate that is hired and promoted know that they were given a fair opportunity and have been hired or promoted for what they can contribute, not because of how they may be identified?”
As it stands, companies cannot confidently answer this question because the processes they continue to use to hire and promote candidates are not fair. If we are to make real progress in DE&I, we must consider process audits in a similar way that financial processes are audited. DE&I teams, in my opinion, should run the auditing of hiring and promotion processes which are the core activities that impact DE&I.
Core Processes Affecting DE&I
There are many reasons why DE&I efforts fail in external hiring and succession planning – poor pipeline, poor selection process, poor interview process, and poor accountability, to name a few.
It takes a lot of work to build a strong talent pipeline, and companies aren’t typically set up to proactively build them. We only need to look at what’s been happening in the tech sector since the end of 2022 to see that recruiting teams are culled when active recruiting stops. This represents a very short-sighted view of what recruiting is. This is the ‘fill the vacant seats’ view of recruiting where once active recruiting isn’t happening, it’s time to get rid of the recruiters as they’re a cost.
However, building a talent pipeline is about identifying candidates and nurturing relationships with them for the longer term. This is a whole subject in and of itself which we’ll leave for another time.
Poor Selection Process
The process of selection takes a long list of potential candidates, including those sourced through ads, or directly headhunted, or internally, and selecting those that are going to be interviewed.
By what process are we shortlisting the tens or hundreds of applications to arrive at a sensible number of candidates to interview? Often, we don’t even have specific criteria other than a very poorly written job spec that has requirements like “good communications skills,” as if that’s not a requirement for every management and leadership job in the world. The criteria are often poor, and then the selection or elimination process is equally as bad.
Poor Interview Process
It took an eight-year research project that led to writing 300 pages of research to describe how terrible companies are at interviewing. Competency behavioral interviews, invented in 1970, which isn’t exactly a decade known for diversity, is a huge problem that companies aren’t speaking about. Having multiple freestyling interviewers asking whatever they like leads to incomparable answers and inconsistent measures.
The only interviewer training most hiring managers receive is a list of outdated behavioral competency questions to ask. They typically have zero training on what to do with the answers and how any of the answers are anchored in any kind of science.
Over the last fifteen years, as the focus on DE&I has increased, hiring managers and recruiters have been led to believe that our biases are all corrupt and cannot be changed and that only AI can help us. We’ve had the unconscious bias training, which all stemmed from the since-debunked research published in 1995 on Implicit Social Cognition (unconscious bias). To fully understand the unbiased history of unconscious bias, you can watch or read this 35-minute talk taken from the research. In summary, our biases are not all corrupt, can change, and can be directed with data.
THE DE&I Audit – Lessons from Finance
For recruiters and hiring managers to be told that we all make bad choices because of our underlying biases is a bit like saying everyone in the finance department is corrupt and ready to steal money as soon as nobody is looking. It’s just not true for the vast majority of people.
There are measures in place to ensure that the processes in finance lead to a fair representation of the financial health of the company that can be relied upon for investment decisions by interested parties. There are rules that must be followed, and it’s not enough to just self-audit the books. It’s not even enough to have qualified, licensed accounting professionals in the company. Companies are audited every year to ensure they’re following the guidelines correctly.
With such audits, are the finance professionals made to feel untrusted and disrespected? Of course not. They will generally be working very hard to make sure they get a clean audit and can declare themselves as being part of the team that always does the right thing.
Currently, in the recruiting world, this opportunity doesn’t exist. Worst still, everyone is sentenced to a career of suspicion and forced to use tools like CV redaction software to avoid their so-called corrupt biases infecting their decision-making. These people deserve a chance to redeem themselves, and this can only happen with an audit of the selection process.
If the DE&I team owned the internal audit, it could look something like the external audit process that follows. In particular, every quarter or six months, or even yearly, an audit could be conducted randomly with hiring managers and recruiters. Using the data on the recruiting database, recruiters and hiring managers can be asked to talk through their decisions on whom they recommended to hire for a particular role, and for those who were not hired, to talk through their criteria for rejecting these candidates.
Much like with finance professionals who are congratulated on their adherence to rules and guidelines after passing an audit, this audit should be seen as a positive reassurance that successful individuals are among the majority who hire and promote with DE&I in mind. This will also be the way to identify individuals who are not operating to certain standards and can be dealt with accordingly.
At our consulting firm, DEI Audit/Bremnus, we have established a set of guidelines of fairness that are company agnostic, based on our 300 pages of research. This process is broken down into two parts:
- Process Audit.
- Process Redesign.
- Process Audit
This includes reviewing all (or part of):
Job Specs, job ads, talent attraction methods, shortlisting processes, and interview frameworks. The goal is to understand the ‘as is’ state to identify gaps and work towards a proposed ‘to be’ state as outlined in our recommendations.
Our research involving interviews with over 1700 leaders shows that interviewers are typically lacking in objective structure and consistency. Typical interview processes involve different interviewers freestyling their way through an unstructured interview and reaching incomparable conclusions. Our audit process involves interviewing the interviewers and either sitting in on or recording interviews to then offer detailed feedback based on our research.
Talent Attraction Audit
A talent attraction audit involves reviewing the pre-interview funnel, including all job specs, job ads, and the shortlisting processes. This may also include competitor analysis to understand how your company compares.
- Process Design
This is where we make recommendations and lay out where the gaps are, referencing our research and explain how these gaps can be filled.
Talent Attraction Redesign
We will make extensive and detailed recommendations about job specs, standard job ads, and the shortlisting process. This can involve completely re-writing all standard job specs and job ads for all roles with detailed notes on why the changes are necessary.
This is where we look at redesigning the interview question format for different levels of roles. We will take each of the main roles and make recommendations for what questions will be most useful. The aim here is to get rid of behavioral competency interviews and most psychometric assessments for reasons that will be made clear in the audit.
The assessment process will likely be different for different levels of hiring. To take senior hiring as an example, we will look to simplify the complex hiring process and abandon distracting and outdated procedures most companies still use.
The result will be a catalog of specifically designed question frameworks with recommendations for how best to interpret the answers. This will elevate the interview process for both the candidates and your company.
We then leave all clients with over eight hours of on-demand training that goes deep into the research underlying our audit work. This training helps hiring managers and HR professionals better understand the ongoing work that needs to be maintained so hiring and promotion processes can be optimized for DE&I and company performance.
DE&I teams in companies have, to date, spent a lot of time on educating and promoting DE&I as well as cultivating inclusive cultures and other important work. They’ve also been responsible for measuring outcomes in terms of the changing demographics of their teams. Observing what happens as an output when the inputs are not being measured or managed is not sufficient to impact change. We must do more.
The inputs are the processes by which we hire and promote individuals in a company. If we optimize these, we should, in theory, optimize performance and diversity. If, after this, companies are still falling short of their DE&I aspirations, then we at least know our processes and decision-makers are no longer the root cause. Recruiters and hiring managers deserve to be vindicated as individuals and left to perform the difficult but rewarding work of transforming our workplaces into the diverse, fair, and inclusive organizations we would all be proud to work for.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fraser Hill is the founder of the leadership consulting and assessment company, Bremnus, as well as the founder and creator of Extraview.io, an HR software company aimed at experienced hire interview and selection in corporates and executive search firms. His 20+ year career has brought him to London, Hong Kong, Eastern Europe, Canada, and now the US, where he lives and works. His new book is The CEO’s Greatest Asset – The Art and Science of Landing Leaders.