24 December 2010

Cultural Diversity: An Important Factor to Consider in Selection Processes

What would the Dr. Do?

Dispensing expert HR advice from EPSI’s President, the highly respected author André Durivage, Ph.D.  

Q: I attended the EPSI forum in October and particularly found the presentation on cultural diversity to be of interest. During the presentation you provided a lot of information concerning cultural factors that need to be taken into consideration in the workplace. Can you provide some recommendations as to how we can ensure that from the start our selection processes are equitable for everyone regardless of our applicants’ ethnicity or backgrounds?

A. McKay
Ottawa, Ontario

A: Statistic Canada’s 2006 census identified that 19.8% of the Canadian population is foreign-born. This is an important statistic to keep in mind when planning and implementing a selection process, as we can conclude that candidates taking part in selection processes may be foreign-born, and may have differing values, beliefs and customs than those of selection committee members.

Those differences however, can be extremely beneficial to an organization, and it is important to ensure that selection processes do not discriminate either overtly or inherently. To remind us of the considerable weight of this aim we can refer to Article 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which pertains to equality and Article 10 of the Human Rights Act which states the following:

It is a discriminatory practice for an employer, employee organization or employer organization

(a) to establish or pursue a policy or practice, or

(b) to enter into an agreement affecting recruitment, referral, hiring, promotion, training, apprenticeship, transfer or any other matter relating to employment or prospective employment,

that deprives or tends to deprive an individual or class of individuals of any employment opportunities on a prohibited ground of discrimination.

When examining this article from the Human Rights Act, we should also take into consideration that it is not only important to ensure that selection processes do not discriminate against candidates based on ethnicity or cultural factors, but also based on disabilities.

A number of elements can be examined in order to ensure that the selection process is fair and non-discriminatory, including choosing an appropriate environment , accommodating candidates, ensuring that evaluators are aware of potential biases and cultural differences, as well as utilizing assessment tools that are reliable, valid, and do not create adverse impact.


In choosing an appropriate environment the selection committee or hiring manager should attempt to provide a fair and standardized environment for all candidates. For example, in most cases all candidates at the interview stage should equally have the opportunity to participate in their interview in a private local with a minimum of interruptions. If the candidate has any disabilities these should be taken into consideration and accommodated; such as providing a preparation room that is close to the interview room, or interview room and washroom on the same floor for candidates with mobility issues. Accommodations may also include providing documentation in large text for candidates with vision challenges, or even providing candidates with additional time to prepare or answer questions if they have other disabilities, including dyslexia, ADHD or speech impediments.

Educating Evaluators

In order to ensure the assessment process is equitable for candidates with various cultural backgrounds or disabilities it is also important that all evaluators are aware of potential biases. For example, a bias known as a similarity error can occur during the interview process, whereby the scorer provides higher rating for candidates who are most similar to them in terms of values, economic status, birthplace, interests, hobbies etc., and lower ratings to those with whom they have more trouble relating to. The most effective manner in which to ensure that this does not happen is to educate those involved in the process through means such as interview/assessment guides, diversity training and coaching or information sessions. The key is that those involved in the process be aware of possible evaluation errors and biases so that steps can be taken to avoid them. In addition, diversity training can help evaluators within the process understand the many interesting variations of meaning that traditional North American gestures and customs can have throughout the world. A smile doesn’t always have the same meaning in all cultures, nor does a handshake. Being aware of these differences can make your selection process all the more effective and inclusive, for the benefit of your organization and your potential employees.

Valid Reliable Tools

Finally, the actual assessment tools or tests that are used within the selection process can drastically reduce the possibility that specific groups are discriminated against. All assessment tools should be valid, reliable and psychometrically sound. Members of different target groups should review the content of the test in order to make sure that there is no cultural bias which may adversely impact the way candidates respond to the test. Moreover, during the pre-test stage the normative groups should include people of varying cultural backgrounds in order to ensure that the tool does not discriminate based on that factor. Analyses should be done in order to ascertain that any observed differences will not cause adverse impact. If a test adheres to the Standards for Psychological Testing, then it can play a decisive part in ensuring an equitable selection process for all candidates.

New talent takes many shapes and comes in many different packages, taking advantage of the diversity of potential employees in the global market both nationally and internationally can open doors for your organization and ensures that you chose the right person for the right job.

To submit a question to be answered by EPSI’s president André Durivage, Ph.D., please send an email to info@epsi-inc.com with ‘Question for the Doctor’ clearly marked in the subject line.