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Recruiter and Hiring Manager Biases Leave Qualified Applicants on the Sideline

May 1, 2021

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

How many times have recruiters reviewed resumes with titles that have little to no meaning and based decisions on those titles?  Mechanical Engineer, HR Business Partner, and others convey meaning but not depth.  And if employers use a job family approach, titles like Staff Engineer, Analyst, Project Manager, and Programmer provide some information at first glance, but again no context as to the work performed. 

Many recruiters will argue that they look beyond titles and review job duties and responsibilities.  Therefore, if an applicant has Vice President in the title, the questions reviewed include number of direct reports and levels, budget responsibilities, line of business responsibilities, and the like.   Therefore, if an applicant has enough enticing tidbits, they would warrant a call or prescreening to flesh out details.

Yet hiring biases haven’t changed much, they are just more subtle and sophisticated in approach.  Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was added in the 1970s, women were routinely asked directly in the hiring process if they had a boyfriend or were planning to get married.  Today, recruiters and managers may ask about family and such, getting the candidate to bond with them, but in reality, getting additional, albeit likely illegal, questions to confirm potential preconceptions.  Some even go into Facebook to scope out the candidate or have bots do the same to create an applicant profile.  And there are hiring managers that try to determine the age of the applicant, thinking they are either too old, likely to retire, or assume that they are out of the price range and would not stay.  Some interview questions asked may, for example, among men, concern college sports, like asking if they ever saw the Fab Five (which was 30 years ago). 

But what do recruiters do if there are employment gaps?  Does this gap penalize caregivers, and in particular, women who are the more likely to step out of the workforce for familial reasons?  Does this gap also penalize those individuals with disability who also had to walk away from the workforce for reasons beyond control?

The answer is yes.  The applicant always has a difficult time explaining why they took themselves out of the workforce.  In certain cases, the questions asked could lead to discriminatory inquiries, whether ADA related, association to someone who may be disabled, or discovery of parental status.  In any of these situations, it can be a negative to the hiring of the applicant.  Hiring managers may assume that their skills are lagging or they are otherwise unemployable, when the case is the opposite.  Add back the age issue and assumed pay expectations, and qualified candidates can be dropped without any deep review by anyone in the hiring process.

LinkedIn has started a slow revolutionary change and recognizes the problems of being a stay-at-home parent.  The platform has added a new title “Stay-At-Home Mom or Dad.” Bef Ayenew, LinkedIn’s engineering director, said the new titles “allow full-time parents and caretakers to more accurately display their roles.”   Ayenew also points out that “[w]e’ve heard from our members, particularly women and mothers who have temporarily stopped working, that they need more ways to reflect career gaps on their profile due to parenting and other life responsibilities.”

LinkedIn was pushed to come up with this new approach, but no matter, it is a start. Travel writer Heather Bolen wrote in a blog post that LinkedIn has used “sexist terminology to describe caregiving roles, and, because so, women have had to resort to using gimmicks and “cutesy workarounds” such as descriptors like “Family COO” and “Chief Home Officer” to explain their time away from work.  

If a recruiter was thinking skill-based recruiting, what does a family “stay-at-home” do?  Skills would include budgeting, time management, negotiations, managing people and processes, and multitasking a variety of job responsibilities.  And there are no 9-5 jobs in this field.  The fact that someone is unpaid doesn’t necessarily mean unskilled. 

Although LinkedIn has taken the first steps, there is more needed to be done on this networking site.  Ayenew said users will be able to choose a stay-at-home job description, set the employment type field to “self-employed,” and will no longer need to specify a company or employer in their profile. The platform is also planning to add a new field specifically for explaining employment gaps (which could be as problematic as the Facebook issues when cancer or other potentially discriminatory information is exposed).  It would also be helpful if the site would train users in understanding how to look at gaps and avoid the EEO pitfalls that are associated with it. 

There are biases out there with recruiters and hiring managers and chipping away for them to see those biases is a good step in getting qualified people back to work, especially in a time where talent is growing scarce.

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