Potential for business growth is at risk as employer bias stifles diverse recruitment and promotion

Chosen one

According to research commissioned by The Open University, 3 in 10 (29%) senior managers admitted to only hiring people who are similar to them. The study warns that this bias means some employers are overlooking candidates from different social and educational backgrounds which can hinder business innovation and performance.

The problem stems from where employers place significant importance, with 86% placing importance in educational attainment, 77% in cultural fit, 65% in tastes and leisure pursuits and 61% in social background. Considering the current social make up of the majority of managers, this may become a real issue and prevent the promotion of diversity within the workforce.

More than half (55%) of managers admit they would not be willing to recruit employees without a degree and train them up with the skills required, a further 13% admit they think less of someone who has done an apprenticeship.

There needs to a shift in managerial bias as the apprenticeship levy and degree apprenticeships have introduced opportunities for employees who may have been at a disadvantage to acquire the skills that are needed desperately in many businesses to bridge the ever-growing skills gap.

David Willett, Director at The Open University says: “Conscious or not, employers’ reluctance to hire workers without a degree, in part driven by managerial bias for appointing workers who ‘fit the mould’, is damaging both individual prospects and business potential in the UK. By seeing the latent potential in these workers, and investing in their training, organisations can boost skills and engagement, and bring more diversity into the workforce. An organisation of clones lacks the breadth of life experience and thinking required to drive creativity, innovation, and retain a diverse client base, which is essential if the UK is to compete on a global stage following Brexit.”

The study follows recent market research commissioned by The Open University which found the skills gap is costing UK businesses more than £2 billion a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing, and the challenge of finding talent with the right skills means that businesses need to change their approach to recruitment, development and retention.


1. Be self-aware

Identify your ‘in-groups’ (social groups to which you feel you belong and naturally gravitate towards). When it comes to making personnel decisions question your judgement – are they based on merit or personal preference?

2. De-personalise the applications

Change your selection process so that recruiters cannot see applicants’ names, ages and universities. This ensures interviewees are selected based on merit and means they are more likely to come from diverse backgrounds.

3. Remove degree entry requirements

Setting a degree as a minimum entry requirement automatically shuts out many workers from less privileged backgrounds who could have spent time learning skills in a previous role or be eager and motivated to learn once in the role.

4. Choose a diverse interview panel

Making your interview panel as diverse as possible, in terms of social, educational and employment background, reduces the risk of selecting a candidate based on natural chemistry and commonality.

5. Test applicants

If you’re worried about bias during the ‘Q&A’ phase of the interview, try testing employees with tasks they will face in the role. Then compare applicants directly against the other, reducing the impact of ‘likeability’.

6. Establish hiring criteria

Setting out clear criteria to assess candidates against prior to a round of interviews means that unconscious bias is less likely to play a role in the hiring process. Alternatively, try strengths-based recruitment where you hire candidates based on innate strengths and motivators who have the potential to reach peak performance in their roles. This is very different to identifying candidates who just have the skills, experience and capabilities to do the job.

7. Know your business

Find out where your organisation might be falling short on diversity. Use metrics to reveal trends in hiring, retention, training and pay, or you could even speak to your current employees about their observations.

8. Set diversity targets

Diversity goals can raise the issue up the agenda, but they can also result in backlash from employees who find them unfair, or believe they devalue their role. To guard against this, highlight the business case for increasing diversity: growth, innovation and ultimately success.

9. Train the leadership team

A top-down approach is crucial for ensuring that organisations boost their diversity and equality – those who decide on training opportunities and set out workplace culture need to be leading by example, and may need additional training themselves.

10. Consider where and how you’re advertising for a role

Think about the wording you use in job descriptions and advertising carefully, as some words can put certain groups off. Consider joining a mentoring scheme or partnering with an equal opportunities organisation in your area.