How Can Organisations Encourage Diversity through Fairness in Assessments?

November 9, 20164:32 pm1156 views

Diversity and the problem of positive discrimination continue to be major concerns. Rather than positively discriminating to recruit a diverse workforce, the onus is on recruiters to implement measures that are fair and which focus on someone’s ability to do the job.

A recently published white paper by cut-e shows how to conduct fair testing that doesn’t disadvantage potential applicants or discriminate against any group. It provides advice and guidance on how to avoid bias and adverse impact in recruitment. 

The paper details five factors of fair testing – accuracy, equality, accessibility, practicality and reversibility (re-scoring) – and explains how these can help employers to recruit a more diverse workforce.

“Diversity and inclusion can enhance innovation, adaptability and performance in organisations, by providing a greater variety of viewpoints, but if your selection process is unfair, you’ll only recruit the same, homogeneous group,” said Dr Preuss.

The paper recommends that hiring managers should be trained in equal opportunities, diversity, employment law, interview skills and avoiding unconscious bias. Recruiters should apply the ‘four-fifths rule’ which states that the success rate for members of any particular group – such as males, females or ethnic groups – should not be less than 80 percent of any other group’s success rate.

Benefits of Fair Testing

  • With the expected increase in the mobility of employees between countries as technology advances, it is likely that there will be an increasing number of applicants from outside of any country.
  • There are also issues due to an aging society (demographic change) and this means that companies will have to become more flexible with respect to who they recruit – in terms of age, gender, education, nationality, and disability, but also in terms of beliefs. The applicants without doubt will become more diverse.

“Valuing diversity means valuing the differences between people and the ways in which those differences can contribute to a richer, more creative and more productive business environment.”

Fair testing helps increase diversity within a company, and this in turn is likely to increase organisational effectiveness as often those with a diverse workforce are better able to adapt quickly and successfully to changes in the market. There is a wide range of approaches for problem solving, enhanced creativity and innovation. This means that a wider range of products can be created, leading to wider base of potential customers to be addressed and attracted.

However, diversity is not always beneficial. Does diversity really lead to improved performance? According to Thomas and Ely (1996), it is not enough to just recruit a diverse workforce or to develop specific plans for presumably disadvantaged groups like, for example, women.

Equally, it is not sufficient to just assign them tasks that match their skills and abilities. To really profit from diversity, it is, according to the authors, necessary to give employees the opportunity to share their experience and learn from each other.

So what is fair testing? A test is fair if it does not systematically disadvantage certain groups of people. And what does ‘not systematically disadvantage certain groups’ mean? Does it mean that all groups achieve the same score? Not quite. The aim of a test or questionnaire is to differentiate between different persons – but it cannot be discriminatory.

For employee assessments, fairness helps in predicting job performance from a given test score, and further leads to fairness in selection when job performance is evaluated. Thus, one important aspect of fair testing is assessing only job-relevant characteristics because it is only these aspects that can predict job performance.

Here are 5 important factors for fair testing:

  1. Accuracy: A test has to be representative of items, tasks, or topics (content validity) as well as of the construct or underlying trait it measures (construct validity). It also needs to predict the criterion it is meant to predict (criterion validity), and needs to be reliable (reliability).
  2. Equality: The test must not systematically disadvantage certain groups. The content of the test must not be offensive towards certain groups in terms of language or content and must not penalise certain groups of test takers because of their background. Furthermore, differences between different groups of test takers must be examined and considered when setting standards.
  3. Accessibility: Groups of test takers must not be disadvantaged in their access to the test. This comprises the opportunity to prepare for the test and familiarise with the procedure and equipment, to get access to the location the test is administered in, and to financially afford the test. Furthermore, accommodations for test takers with challenges (e.g. dyslexia, ADHD, visual and motoric handicaps) must be made.
  4. Practicability: For supervised tests, physical conditions, for example light and temperature at the location the test is administered in, must be appropriate. Furthermore, test taking conditions must be uniform and secure for all test takers. Unsupervised tests are to be designed in such a way that differences, for example in the quality of the computer display or the software installed on the computer, don’t impact the results.
  5. Reversibility: The test results must have an impact on instructional practices, but there must also be the opportunity for the test takers to proceed against detrimental social effects of the test, for example by re-scoring of the test or by legal remedies.


Author credits:  

Dr Katharina Lochner, Research Director, cut-e Group. She has a degree in work and organisational psychology from RWTH Aachen University, a doctorate in psychology from the Free University of Berlin and over 10 years’ experience working with clients in Europe and Asia Pacific.

Dr Achim Preuss, Chief Technology Officer, cut-e group. He has a degree in psychology and doctorate in applied computing science. At cut-e, he is responsible for IT systems and product development, infrastructure and the technology partner network.


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