How Microsoft does accessible, inclusive recruitment

Worrying stats from the Leonard Cheshire report show that 17% of applicants that applied for a job in the last five years had a job offer withdrawn as a result of their disability. Even once in the workplace, one in two disabled people experienced disability harassment while at work which just isn't acceptable.

One of the main reasons businesses fall short on inclusion and accessiblity is the perceived cost that's involved, but our Head of HR, Mairead Comerford, is here to debunk those myths. In this webinar, Mairead discussed that there are lots of resources available to help make adjustment in the workplace and to make them accessible as possible.
"This is a real missed opportunity as putting adjustments in place is mostly very low-cost and straight-forward to achieve. At AbilityNet we regularly use Access To Work, a goverment scheme, which is really good. It covers the cost of assistive technology that needs to be put in place. It could be something like software for someone with dyslexia or someone who has a mental illness and needs support through that."

This webinar was the first of our series of workplace focused webinars, where we welcomed Michael Vermeersch, Digital Inclusion Lead, at Microsoft. As well as our Head of HR speaking about avoiding discrimination and unconscious bias within the recruitment process, Michael Vermeersch tapped into his experience and expertise and discussed how Microsoft approaches accessible recruitment practices. During the session, Michael also shared how Microsoft communicates with potential candidates about being an inclusive employer with an inclusive recruitment process, and how it makes sure that the processes are applied consistently across the whole organisation.

We outlined AbilityNet's own recognition in the field of accessible recruitment - we are proud to be an approved Disability Confident Leader with inclusive recruitment practices. 

Attendees also got a chance to consider their own recruitment processes by answering a selection of questions from the AbilityNet workplace inclusion GAP analysis and find out how small changes can make a big difference in attracting diverse talent into your organisation.

Webinar recording, transcript, podcast and slides

A transcript, slides used in the webinar, follow up Q&A responses, and a captioned recording are available below.

For additional information read answers to frequently asked questions about AbilityNet webinars.

Questions and answers from the webinar

The speakers have been able to provide answers to some of the questions posed by attendees during the webinar that weren't able to be answered during the live session:

Question: How is the direct and indirect discrimination statistic gathered? Management won't normally admit that to the applicant but just say something like, you did very well but unfortunately there is another candidate who is more suitable etc. 

Mairead Comerford (MC): This will occur but as HR professionals we have to strive to change this. Challenge internal culture if a line manager does not want to take someone on because of a disability, ensure your process does not allow for this discrimination, ensure all have disability awareness training. Ensure you have a culture that is inclusive. Always challenge senior management if not on board and give the stats behind the reasons for employing disabled people.

Amy Low (AL): Quite often the indirect discrimination can be addressed by reviewing the job description, interview questions and working practices/policies to spot where indirect discrimination may be present. This can then be designed out of the process as much as possible. If you wanted to collect and report on data on this you could be evaluating roles and job descriptions when drafted and documenting where indirect discriminatory elements are detected.
With direct discrimination, again having a set scoring process for interview and involving more than one person at each stage where possible can help avoid direct discrimination as the recruiting manager must then evidence why they have scored as they have. Evaluating applicants based on equal opportunities data collected v scores v successful / unsuccessful is a way to evaluate numerically but does depend on the applicants giving details about characteristics that might not be apparent.
As Mairéad says, some key ways to reduce the likelihood of discrimination occurring is to provide awareness training, keep inclusion as a key discussion point and theme in the broader organisation, and ensure senior managers are leading by example.

Q: Does you have any suggestions for a consultant to review interview questions, for all inclusive purposes, but with a particular review for inclusive practice linked to ethnicity? 

AL: AbilityNet can work with organisations through our GAP analysis and consultancy services to help them ensure interview questions are inclusive and accessible. In terms of ethnicity, as with other protected characteristics, a key point to remember is this should not be a topic that comes into focus in interview questions and the questions asked should not allude to ethnic background nor should any assumptions be made related to this.

Q: Research has shown unconscious bias training doesn't work often. Do you have any comment on this, Mairead?

MC: Yes, I have seen the research but from our experience at AbilityNet, I disagree. All our staff at AbilityNet and our volunteers were invited to do unconscious bias training with 96% feedback stating how insightful they found it. As an HR professional I found it extremely useful and as a result changed some of our recruitment processes. We used the training provider Vercida

AL: I would agree with Mairéad that providing training on the concepts and types of unconscious bias is very useful in terms of awakening individuals to the types of bias that can exist, especially the kind of biases that may be perceived by individuals as ‘being thoughtful’ towards colleagues (for example, I won’t ask my colleague who is disabled or my colleague who has a young child to go on a business trip as it will be logistically challenging). It is essential however that unconscious bias doesn’t become an excuse (oops sorry that was my unconscious bias) and it's really important that training is also provided on the legal requirements relating to discrimination and all of our roles in ensuring this does not occur. 

Q: I would love to know other talent attraction strategies especially any internal strategies to evaluate skills beyond interview Q&A and presentation slideshows. Is there a programme to make the process of talent streaming more purposeful and planned? 

AL: Recruitment is just one part of managing talent and providing a clear and easy way for internal candidates to understand the career paths available to them within an organisation and have easy access to training or development groups to help them attain the required levels to move up is really key. This can be done in a number of ways and is something that AbilityNet covers in our GAP analysis process. There are many pitfalls where internal potential can be missed and having clear avenues to communicate a desire to progress or learn new skills that does not always rely on line manager as the route in is very advantageous. Likewise having clear role models and personal stories, as Michael mentioned they do at Microsoft.

MC: If we are interviewing for a technical role then we evaluate using a technical test as part of the process. We do also evaluate candidates against our core values.

Q: Do you break inclusive recruitment into stages - are there any steps that should be prioritised? 

MC: At AbilityNet we do state the process of each stage of recruitment and allow for this to be changed to suit the candidate.   

  1. Ensure your recruitment process is inclusive - provide training to hiring staff is really important so everyone understands ‘The Why’.
  2. Have a process in place to ensure job descriptions are checked for relevance to the role (and for any bias – using Gender decoder or Textio).
  3. Check that interview questions are strongly linked to the job requirements (if not then take them out).
  4. Strong communication with candidates welcoming them to ask questions and give feedback to help you to design the interview process to be inclusive to the widest audience (considering all potential barriers).

AL: Providing training to hiring staff is really important so everyone understands ‘The Why’. Then I would say having a process in place to make sure job descriptions are checked for relevance to the role and interview questions strongly linked to the job requirements, and if they aren't they should not be included. Next step for me would be strong communication with candidates welcoming them to ask questions and give feedback to help you to design the interview process to be inclusive to the widest audience (considering all potential barriers).

Q: What are the implications of automation for hiring? For example, the machine reading of candidate submissions and hundreds of different Applicant Tracking Systems which may or may not be flexible enough to accommodate different applicants.

Michael Vermeersh (MV): These are good points, we therefore encourage the use of AI in a responsible way. Please find here the Microsoft principles on responsible AI.


Useful links

Further resources

How Microsoft does accessible, inclusive recruitment - AbilityNet webinar slides via SlideShare

Date of webinar: 
2 Mar 2021 - 13:00