A guide to biased-free recruitment

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We all have certain unconscious biases, as a result of growing up in a society and culture that influences us greatly. As a recruiter, hiring manager or business partner, we need to focus on recognising and overcoming bias when it arises and offer a biased-free recruitment process. The most suitable candidate for the role will always be the one whose skills and experience best match the requirements. 

In this blog post, we provide five examples of the most common forms of discrimination encountered in the workplace, each of which is prohibited under Dutch law, and give advice on ways that we can respond in order to conduct a biased-free recruitment process.

Ageism

Ageism is one of the more common and tolerated forms of discrimination in the workplace, especially when considering more senior candidates in the job market.

‘Please only send through profiles of candidates under the age of 40’

In the face of such a request from a client or hiring manager, it is best to ask why they are only looking for candidates under 40. It’s our job to explain that we will forward applications of candidates based on the skills, experience and requirements of the role. We should also make it clear that it is prohibited under Dutch law to discriminate based on age, and that this cannot be part of the selection criteria.

‘Please only send through applications of starters or recent graduates’

It is very common to receive this kind of request and to be asked to publish a job description stating that a maximum number of years’ experience are required for a specific role. It could also be that a hiring manager or line manager may ask for applications of a starter or a student to be sent as this age group will fit better within the team environment.

These sorts of requests may, initially, not seem discriminatory, however, they are a clear request to not consider people of a certain age. 

In response to a request like this, it is important to mention that the process needs to be as inclusive as possible, in order to attract and place the best talent. Hints in a job description like “fresh” or “young” break many anti-discriminatory policies of job boards and can lead to a vacancy not appearing on them at all.

Explain to the person making the request that age is not a relevant requirement for a role, and that it is not permitted to ask how old somebody is during an interview process.

Gender

In certain instances, it can be the case that it is necessary to recruit a specific gender to fit with particular requirements of a role. For example, it may be necessary to recruit a male ballet dancer for the lead role in a performance, or to recruit a female opera singer. In this context, recruiting a certain gender is an absolute requirement of the role itself and a distinction can be made.

In most roles, however, gender should not be in any way relevant. Recruiters should always focus on finding the best applicants based on the skills and experience required.

‘We have a very female-dominated team, could you please focus on male applicants’

It sounds like a reasonable request, however, other candidates will be excluded from this selection process, simply because of their gender. This is strictly prohibited under Dutch law. The recruiter has an obligation to make the business partner or client aware that the request is discriminatory, and that to comply with Dutch law, it is not possible to carry out the request. 

‘We need a male candidate as the work involved is very physical’

As the talent acquisition specialist, you will need to define the exact requirements for the role together with the hiring manager. If the candidate must be able to lift heavy objects, focus on the physical capabilities of the candidate. Make it clear that the selection process will be based on the requirements needed for the role in order to place a candidate successfully.

Pregnancy and motherhood

Another form of gender discrimination can occur when a woman is discriminated against because of pregnancy or motherhood.

‘Please do not send candidates through if they are pregnant

Discriminating against a candidate due to her pregnancy is strictly prohibited. Asking candidates if they are pregnant is also not permitted.

Does the candidate have the necessary skills and experience for the role? Does the candidate’s job history fit with the requirements of the role? 

Our advice is, if you have a suitable candidate who is pregnant, make sure to proceed. It is always an option to find a temporary replacement for her whilst she is on maternity leave, and in many cases, you can rest assured that a very loyal candidate will return!

‘Will the candidate be able to combine work and personal life?’

This is often a question that is asked when considering female candidates who have children. The question may not initially appear to be discriminatory, but it is.

The future plans of a candidate or their ability to balance home and work life are irrelevant to their ability to perform the work in question. In general, these questions are not asked of male candidates. The relevant questions are, does the candidate have the necessary skills and experience? Does the candidate fit the requirements of the role?

 

Read more about maternity leave, parental leave and partner leave in the Netherlands in our blog post below!

Religion

It is important to address possible bias if the person recruiting for the role wishes to exclude certain religions from the recruitment process. It should always be made clear that you cannot conduct a search based on these grounds. All suitable candidates will be considered irrespective of religious background or beliefs.

‘Please send through candidates with similar beliefs’

Religion is a personal belief and in nearly all cases has no relevance or importance to the function that needs to be performed.

It is important, however, to be aware that there are a few exceptions. An example would be where specific religious schools may make certain distinctions that allow them to comply with their religious foundations. 

Nationality and origin

Unfortunately, many companies in the Netherlands still very much discriminate based on nationality, ethnicity, or origin.

Sometimes the request that you receive may be very deliberate:

‘We are looking for candidates with a Dutch name’

This could be a way to try and exclude Dutch-speaking candidates who hold a different nationality, ethnicity, or origin.

If you receive such a request, you can advise that it is fine to source for candidates based on language skills. For instance, if this is a requirement for a Customer Service Representative for the Dutch-speaking market. Someone may not have Dutch nationality or origin but may have a totally fluent level of Dutch. It is discriminatory in this context to source only for candidates with a Dutch name or Dutch nationality. Universal language tests can be taken by all suitable applicants if required to test their language skills and to ensure their language ability is that which is required.

’We are looking for Polish candidates, they are such hard workers’

This may seem, at first, to be a positive request. The person hiring may have had a very good experience with Polish employees in the past.

You can respond by asking to talk through the skills and requirements for the role. If the person with the vacancy is looking for somebody who is very dedicated to their job, this is a quality that you can look for during the recruitment process. You can inform the hiring manager that this consideration will be kept in mind during the selection process, as it is not permitted to select candidates based on origin or nationality.

Operating in a recruitment function bares the responsibility to safeguard a diverse and inclusive job market.

Our takeaways for you!

  • Put your own bias aside regarding candidates and conduct a recruitment process based on skills and experience
  • Understand that discriminatory requests can be very blatant but can also be very subtle.
  • If you are unsure if the request is discriminatory or not, take a time-out. Discuss the request with your manager or team, and look up articles concerning discrimination together if further research is required. If the request does seem to be discriminatory, call back your Business Partner/Client and determine, once again, the requirements of the role. This time make it clear that you will do your best to forward the most suitable candidates and that you cannot conduct a selection process based on the specific request as it is discriminatory and thus not permitted.
  • If you have the feeling that your Business Partner/Client is being consistently discriminatory discuss it with your manager/company. It may well be that it is time to stop the collaboration.

Are you currently seeking to hire for your company? Find out how we can help you find the best talent!

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