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Hiring discrimination – examples and how to prevent it

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Hiring discrimination – examples and how to prevent it

When searching for a new job, hiring discrimination can be an unwelcome problem that can most employers and even affect company productivity. Companies need to work hard to ensure their employment practices are ethically sound and they are avoiding discriminatory practices.

According to a McKinsey study conducted in Latin America, employees who work at at a diverse workplace are 150% more likely to display creativity and initiative in the workspace. For many years, it’s been a well-known fact that diverse teams are more productive. How do you make sure you create a diversified workplace? One way is to rid your office of workplace discrimination. To ensure that your organization is free of any form of hiring discrimination.

Before we get into the definitions of what constitutes hiring discrimination, can you be sure your company is doing all it can to avoid unconscious bias or hiring discrimination?

To be sure, check out our free downloadable Ebook –

How to eliminate interviewer and unconscious bias from your hiring process

Identifying hiring discrimination

Hiring discrimination happens when an unfair hiring decision takes place based on a person’s color, religion, sexual orientation, place of origin, age or genetics. Disability discrimination and racial bias can also constitute discriminatory practices when it come.

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 , it’s unlawful to:

(1) ” fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual , or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin”

Types of hiring discrimination

There are various discriminatory practices that take place in workplaces all over the world each day. It is important to recognize and be able to spot discrimination in the hiring process and in the workplace.

Age discrimination

Not hiring someone based on their age is age discrimination. A recruiter may feel that a candidate is too young or too old to carry out a role, however, denying them the opportunity would be considered age discrimination. It is the person’s skills and experience that should be taken into account, rather than their age.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation

Overlooking someone for a job based on their sexual preference is considered sexual orientation discrimination. A person’s sexual preferences should have no bearing on their ability to perform a role, so their sexual orientation is irrelevant.

Racial discrimination

Treating someone differently because of their skin color or race is considered racial discrimination and in contrast to fair employment. Federal civil rights laws like the Civil Rights Act, 1964, were introduced to prevent intentional discrimination by an employment agency or company over a person. A law such as the one famously introduced by the United States Government in 1964, protects employees from discrimination, “on the basis of sex, as well as, race in hiring, promoting, and firing.” –

Disability discrimination

Disability discrimination in the workplace is when job applicants are denied a hiring opportunity based on their disability status and related medical conditions.

The disabilities act (Disability Discrimination Act) defines disability as-

“a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. – RNIB

This definition provided by the disabilities act, will of course mean there may be some roles that a disabled person cannot perform. However, where disability status or related medical conditions has no bearing on a person’s ability to perform the role, if they are prevented the same chance as others, then this will constitute hiring discrimination.

There could be a health and safety reason, or an unavoidable business reason. Where this is the case, it won’t count as discrimination.” Citizen’s advice

Sex discrimination

Job discrimination can also happen based on a person’s sex. Different people of different sexes, working in the same workplace, can expect the same treatment. State and local governments, as well as labor organizations and employment agencies across the world, have fought to introduce anti-discrimination laws, like the Equal Pay act, which guaratees equal pay for equal work, designed to make sure men and women are both treated equally. Sex discrimination would occur if one person, with equal skill as another, was overlooked for a job based on their sex.

Gender identity discrimination

Gender identity is different from sexual orientation or sex. It is the gender that a person relates to in their own mind. Gender identity discrimination can occur when a person suffers prejudice based on their gender expression.

Other discriminatory reasons to reject job applicants

Candidates being treated differently because of their religion, national origin or physical appearance, are also considered discriminatory hiring practices.
Discrimination vs harassment – how is it different?

How do we define harassment? It refers to “behavior that demeans, humiliates or embarrasses a person, and it is characteristically identified by its unlikelihood in terms of social and moral reasonableness. In the legal sense, these are behaviors that appear to be disturbing, upsetting, or threatening”.

While harassment can qualify as a form of discrimination, some differences apply. Harassment relates to bias (on the basis of sex, race, age, etc.) which manifests itself through interpersonal relations at work. Discrimination is more tangible, it is also bias, but reflected through formal employment policies and actions which make it easier to observe.

Examples of hiring discrimination

Types of workplace discrimination with examples

Source: The Balance Careers

Examples of workplace discrimination in recruitment:

  • Direct discrimination – treating a specific individual poorly because of their certain characteristics. This can include gender discrimination, racial discrimination or age discrimination.
  • Indirect discrimination – introducing rules or policies in the workplace which put at a disadvantage individuals who display certain traits, despite the fact they are directed at all employees
  • Unintentional discrimination – is based on unintentional prejudice, for example, when someone uses an offensive word to describe a person of different ethnicity or culture, without realizing they’re being insulting. This can still lead to a discrimination claim.
  • Harassment – purposely building a hostile environment for those displaying certain characteristics.

Discrimination vs harassment – how is it different?

How do we define harassment? It refers to “behavior that demeans, humiliates or embarrasses a person, and it is characteristically identified by its unlikelihood in terms of social and moral reasonableness. In the legal sense, these are behaviors that appear to be disturbing, upsetting, or threatening”.

While harassment can qualify as a form of discrimination, some differences apply. Harassment relates to bias (on the basis of sex, race, age, etc.) which manifests itself through interpersonal relations at work. Discrimination is more tangible, it is also bias, but reflected through formal employment policies and actions which make it easier to observe.

Examples of harrassment vs discrimination

To better illustrate how these two phenomena differ, let’s take a look at a couple of examples. Imagine you’re a woman and you are invited to a business meeting that happens to be male-dominated. One of the male attendees makes an inappropriate comment regarding your outfit – this could qualify as harassment. If the comments are sexual in their context, then this can constitute sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can also be with regard to inappropriate physical contact. Any inappropriate questions or comments of a sexual nature, made during the hiring process, could be considered sexual harassment. Sexual violence, on the other hand, is when a person does or tries to perform a sexual act using intimidation or physical violence.

Now, let’s assume you’re a job applicant switching careers , and you want to start working as a junior developer, even though you’re an experienced accountant. You found a job advertisement for a junior developer but you couldn’t apply as it was limited to a specific age group of younger workers – this could be regarded as age discrimination and overall ould constitute employment discrimination. Therefore denying any older applicant the chance at an equal opportunity. In the next section, we will provide examples of what constitutes as a discrimination case.

Examples of discrimination in recruitment

Now that we’ve covered how discrimination is different from harassment and reviewed its types, let’s take a look at some examples.

Discrimination through a job advertisement

Despite anti-discriminatory legislation worldwide, occasionally you can still find job descriptions that exclude certain candidates. Most commonly, a job advertisement can be tailored to be:

  • Directly discriminating against certain candidates, i.e., the ad copy specifies which gender, race, age, or other criterion is either crucial or undesired. Below, is an example of age bias – the ad directly excludes anyone over the age of 27 from applying:
Directly discriminate against certain candidates

Source: The Extracurricular Being

And here’s an example of gender bias:

Unconscious bias

Source: Twitter – Ella Gorev

Sometimes a job advertisement can be intentionally crafted to discourage certain applicants. For instance, a job advertisement targeted at anyone born after the year 2000 could be posted only on the brand’s TikTok account. Perhaps it could include cultural references that might puzzle anyone from an older age group. The job advertisement could also imply that the rest of the team is ‘young’, ‘vibrant’, and ‘energetic’. Conversely, if an employer favors Baby Boomers, their ad could underline all the advantages for pensioners.

Hiring discrimination job advert

Source: Zippla

Interviewer bias

As humans, we all have personal preferences. Unfortunately, this may also influence our objectiveness towards job applicants. Certain recruiters or hiring managers might display behaviors that point to a conscious or subconscious bias against a given candidate. This means they might be against an applicant for any reason but their skills or personal traits needed for the job.

One such example is the interviewer asking harder questions or giving a specific applicant a more complex recruitment task than to other candidates.

Recruitment software automation bias

As software is created by people, it won’t always be bias-free. For instance, a recruitment tool you’re using might be designed in a way that filters out candidates who’ve had an employment gap of at least 6 months. As a result, you might not receive any applications from candidates who’ve spent time on parental leave.

Targeted job ads

Online job portals and social media may lure you with tens of filters that will allow you to target very specific candidates. However, you need to be careful when defining your ideal candidate profile. In 2019, Facebook – along with 66 other companies – were accused by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of discriminating against certain groups in their job offers. Therefore, ensure that you don’t follow in their footsteps! We discuss how in the next section.

Tips to tackle hiring discrimination

Here are a few effective ways to eradicate hiring discrimination from your company:

Tip 1:Use work sample tests

If you’re a tech recruiter, we highly recommend that you use work sample coding tests to remove unconscious bias. When a candidate applies for a job, you send them a recruitment task and can review the best assignments from the entire applicant pool. This way, you’re filtering the single best-skilled applicants, regardless of who they are. Work sample coding tests are also one of the best employee performance predictors.

RECOMMENDED READING: Job Interview Techniques For Employers

Tip 2: Anonymize recruitment assignment reports

Once you’ve filtered the best candidates via work sample tests, you can anonymize candidate report results before you pass on the report to the hiring manager. This way, early in the recruitment process, you’re also removing any bias from the rest of the team.

DevSkiller hiring discrimination prevention Tip 3: Watch out for the language you use

As you’ve seen in the previous section, the language you use can make your organization come across as discriminatory. Avoid age, gender, or race references, and make sure you use gender-neutral terms (for example, instead of “his/her”, use “their”).

Anonymize recruitment assignment reports

Source: Unsplash

Tip 4: Be careful with recruitment software filters

As mentioned earlier, certain recruitment software and job portals allow you to target very specific candidate groups. However, if you’re not careful with the criteria you apply, you might end up discriminating against people of a particular age, race, gender, or other important criteria. This means not only engaging in discriminatory practices but also potentially missing out on highly-skilled candidates.

If your job is office-based, it’s perfectly fine to set the location filter. However, stay wary of any filters that pertain to anything unrelated to skills and crucial personality traits.

Tip 5: Train recruiters to spot (and avoid!) hiring discrimination

Last, but not least, make sure your recruiters are trained to avoid and notice discrimination in the workplace. You can make reasonable adjustments to your working environment to make employee diversity part of your company DNA. For instance, you could include anti-discrimination training or diversity training as part of your HR personnel onboarding process.

Train recruiters to spot (and avoid!) hiring discrimination

Source: Unsplash

As stated in Forbes, “a diversified hiring team that has gone through diversity training understands the importance of a diverse workplace and the impact it has on [the] company’s successes”.

Tip 6: Ask the right questions in the interview

Using a list of questions allows you to structure your soft skills interview and get to know the candidate better. To stay on the same track for all candidates, consider using the same list of questions. We’ve prepared 45 behavioral questions to use during non-technical interview with developers to help you out with this.


Hiring discrimination is not an abstract concept, but rather a pressing issue which must be identified and eliminated. Every respectful brand should ensure that its recruitment process is free from any discriminatory hiring practices, and no candidate is put at disadvantage due to their gender, age, race, religion, etc.

There are a number of best practices, which companies can implement to make sure that their hiring process is as objective as possible. These include anonymizing candidate data at the screening stage, using a friendly and bias-free language in recruitment ads, and training HR managers or recruiters to quickly spot and get rid of any hiring discrimination practices. Eliminating discrimination in the workplace will let you hire the best candidates based on their job suitability and not on personal preferences.

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