How to Remove Bias from Selection and Promotional Processes

In the current environment of social and economic disruption, companies generally regard diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) initiatives as timely and necessary responses to correct long-standing inequities in the workplace.

However, research indicates that diverse talent is also good for business. Forward-thinking organizations embrace DEI as a core business driver and an essential element of both their talent and growth strategies. By ensuring objectivity and confidence in the talent-acquisition and development process, organizations can help cultivate an environment suitable for all to have equitable opportunities to learn, excel and grow.

As we collectively navigate this incredibly important social inflection point, many organizations are wrestling with critically important and deeply philosophical issues related to what they stand for and how to demonstrate commitment to their beliefs. To proactively stamp out systemic biases and prejudice, these same organizations are asking themselves some very tough questions about their hiring and promotion processes, and the potential impact on minorities and protected classes.

The following is the first in a series of some common questions that are being asked in regard to an organization’s hiring and promotion processes.

Are assessments racist and should we stop using them in our selection process?

Not all assessment tools are created equally and any that you employ should withstand analyses and proper validation (i.e., proof that it works to predict job performance) to ensure job relatedness and reliability. Organizations must establish a set of objective assessment specifications that will measure the actual requirements of the targeted role and do so in a way that minimizes inherent biases and accurately identifies the next-generation workforce. Utilizing reliable and valid assessment tools aligned with job-specific criteria as selection and promotional tools provides leverage in predicting successful performers, reducing employee turnover, enhancing job satisfaction and addressing discrimination concerns.

There are certain types of assessment tools that have been found over the years to minimize subgroup differences in assessment outcomes and demonstrate lower adverse impact. For example, situational judgment tests (SJTs) significantly reduce standardized differences between majority and protected classes compared to more-traditional cognitive assessments [1,2]. This is aided by targeting non-cognitive attributes (e.g., teamwork, customer service, work ethic and/or company values).

The results of several studies suggest that biodata assessments are better predictors of employee performance [3]. They are practical to deploy, and predict employee performance with greater accuracy than many other commonly used selection devices [4]. Most importantly, research also shows that biodata assessments tend not to have adverse impact for gender or race/ethnicity [5].

Personality testing can also be used to assess an individual’s likely success in a role based on specific and targeted attributes that are job related. Research has found that across hundreds of studies, personality tests based on the Big 5 personality factors did not discriminate based on race/ethnicity, and showed negligible differences between racial groups [6, 7]. Furthermore, sound personality assessments show no meaningful differences in test scores due to gender, nationality, ethnicity, education level or disability, thus reducing legal risks.

In fact, assessments can be used to positively impact the diversity of a company’s candidate pipeline. For example, employers can use assessment to further the early identification of promising employees with high potential to become the company’s next generation of managers and leaders.

[1] Lievens, F., Peeters, H., & Chollaert, E. (2008). Situational judgment tests: A review of recent research. Personnel Review, 37, 426-441.

[2] Office of Personnel Management. (n.d.) Assessment and Selection: Other Selection Methods.

[3] Schmitt, N. & Golubovich, J. (2013). Biographical Information. In K. F. Geisinger (Ed.), APA handbook of testing and assessment in psychology: Test theory and testing and assessment in industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 437-455). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

[4] Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 262–274.

[5] Breaugh, J, Labrador, J. Frye, K., Lee, D., Lammers, V, & Cox, J. (2014). The value of biodata for selecting employees: Comparable results for job incumbent and job applicant samples Journal of Organizational Psychology, 14(1), pp. 40-51.

[6] Big 5 Personality Traits, Psychology Today,

[7] Foldes, H. J., Duehr, E. E., & Ones, D. S. (2008). Group differences in personality: Meta-analyses comparing five U.S. racial groups. Personnel Psychology, 61(3), 579–616.