How to avoid bias with remote interviewing

This article is part of
Guide to hiring in a post-Covid world

How to avoid bias with remote interviewing

Social divides in the workplace have been thrown into the spotlight once again this year, with reports of staff admitting they simply did not have the technology at home - or even the broadband-based internet access - to work remotely when lockdown began.

This is the case across the public and private sectors; one full-time employee at the Home Office, for example, told FTAdviser she did not have access to a computer or to broadband at home, while another employee of the probation service was not equipped to work from home due to her visual impairment.

These are obstacles many people never face but for many, this is a reality and, sadly, many young people will also lack the necessary technology at home to be able to showcase their worth to prospective employers.

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In a ‘normal’ world, youngsters applying for apprenticeships often use shared computers at college or their friends’ and employers are none the wiser as to the lack of appropriate set up for home working. 

But in a lockdown world, where many offices will require some form of home-based working or the flexibility to do so, should a second wave strike, will employers be biased against young people from less advantaged backgrounds - whether consciously or not?

Will employers be happy to interview a young person via their smartphone, and be prepared to send round necessary kit, such as a high-performance laptop or equipment and software needed for people with disabilities, if the candidate is successful? 

Or will lockdown mean candidates who rely on companies being inclusive and committed in principle to social mobility and inclusive workplaces end up getting screened out because of an unconscious bias from the employer?

Put simply, if someone is the right candidate, will their lack of advantages mean they are passed over in favour of someone from a higher socioeconomic background who already has working broadband and their own tech?

This bias that damages social mobility - and therefore damages diversity and inclusion - is something employers have been asking, especially during lockdown, with discussions being held at firms large and small as to how to carry out interviews remotely, while being aware of some candidates' lack of tech and making sure to avoid unconscious bias.

Caren Thomas, interim HR consultant for the Chartered Insurance Institute and Personal Finance Society, comments: “Remote interviews can introduce greater complexity particularly where candidates are unfamiliar with the technology used or have a poor/unstable internet connection.

"At the same time there are enormous benefits of remote interviews, particularly where the candidate may ordinarily experience other access issues. Anticipating and accommodating the challenges is key."

Preparing for remote interviews

The age-old totems of being able to 'read someone's eyes' or 'telling a lot from their handshake' just do not apply in a post-Covid world. Perhaps they do not apply to broader themes of inclusion in any case, but interviewing through a screen means interviewers have to prepare more and work harder to assess candidates.