Quantifying the Qualitative
Aiming for Fair Hiring Processes
There is a current trend in some organizations in using quantitative analysis to hire more equitably and limit the biases that haunt the recurring process. The intention is great, but the execution is tricky.
Quantitative analysis requires a person, often the recruiter or the hiring manager to manipulate the qualitative to quantitative. In order to do so, they need parameters to define and manipulate.
Setting parameters is problematic. For instance, when hiring traditionally a requirement of the position could be “X years of experience in X” as a parameter. This is a bias, as years or direct experience in no way ensures that someone would be good or not in the role. It is simply a traditional, systematic way that organizations do gatekeeping.
In effect, when we assign points to this parameter, we are quantifying our biases. To prevent this, we need to use the core needs of the role as the qualifier rather than the biased outcome of the core need (3 years of experience).
For instance, if you are looking to hire an account, the core needs are: take tax info, synthase it, file it, track it, and keep it safe with discretion and timeliness. So instead of looking for 3 years of experience, you could look for the following:
- Able to synthesize large amounts of detailed data efficiently.
- Able to understand and compare tax laws and measures against personal tax information.
- Able to work with discretion.
- Able to self-organize and project manage to meet hard deadlines.
Hiring managers often state that they’re not able to distill that from someone’s resume and that if they have hundreds of applicants for a role, they need to start the process of shortlisting somehow. So they fall back on what they know: years of experience.
The issue here is that these traditional requirements we are conditioned to look for are constructs and especially in a lower-level role a systematic tool of oppression and racism.
Candidates facing barriers to accessing and non-traditional backgrounds, or candidates with excellent personal or lived experiences will be eliminated before being given the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in the interview. They will already be disqualified based on the basis of the hiring manager.
Completely defeating the point of doing a quantified version of hiring.
The most common defense I hear from hiring managers regarding using set experience parameters like “years of experience” is that if the candidate has done this role before, they will most likely have a shorter learning curve and be able to pick up the role quicker. This might be true, but also, this is the exact excuse used by executives when they say why there are no women or people of color in their C Suite. As Scott Galloway said during the first BLM wave, in defense of Nike’s lack of black executives “there are just not enough talented black VPs”.
We know the reason why there are not enough black VPs is because of systemic racism. So continuing to use traditional work experience or education as parameters for qualifiers, is continuing systematic racism.
If the value of your organization is shareholder profit over people, yes, it’s in your shareholder’s best interest to continue systematic oppression. However, if your organization values equality or you do as a manager and want to effect change, then we need to actively make space for marginalized folx. This includes our hiring practices.
Learning to evaluate candidates based on the core needs of a role rather than the traditional aspects we are conditioned with, takes training and redeveloping processes and procedures. It takes time and it takes self-awareness, just like any anti-racism or other systematic work. In most cases, we have the means, resources, and time to do this, and absolutely have the moral imperative to do so.