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Do psychometric tests cause discrimination against minority groups?

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A hand pointing at a tablet showing psychometric testing shapes.

How biased are psychometric tests?

The accuracy of predicting job performance is paramount in hiring.

Studies over the years have consistently shown that psychometric assessments rank highly in predicting workplace success.

Unlike impressionistic decision-making, which humans are inherently flawed at, psychometric testing offers an algorithmic approach, enhancing the fairness and objectivity of the hiring process.

When used correctly, psychometric testing does not discriminate against minority groups.

In fact, psychometric tests can reduce hiring biases by emphasising the candidate’s potential rather than relying on subjective impressions.

By utilising valid psychometric tools, employers increase the likelihood of a successful hire, aligning with fair employment practices.

The (un)biased nature of psychometric tests in recruitment

Watch the video to understand the degree of bias in psychometric testing and how it can affect discrimination during the recruitment process.

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Is it unfair to use psychometric testing in recruitment?

Hi, Andrew from SACS.

Do psychometric assessments discriminate against members of minority groups?

There’s a range of ways of answering these questions, but the first thing I’ll turn to is the question of accuracy.

In other words, how accurately can you predict whether somebody’s going to work out at work or not?

This diagram (refer to the video) shows the results of many studies over years about what makes success and failure at work, and the things down the bottom are less accurate and the things at the top are more accurate.

And you’ll notice that the things at the top almost always involve some form of psychometric assessment.

Now, why is this?

Well, there are a range of reasons.

Human beings, when they’re making decisions impressionistically are, in fact, not great decision makers.

So if you look at the work of Daniel Kahneman or Sunstein and Thaler in their book ‘Nudge,’ they look at the question of how people make decisions.

And impressionistic decisions tend not to be very accurate.

Quality of measurement and decision-making

What tends to be much more accurate is what’s called algorithmic decision making where you use a tool to help you make decisions.

And psych testing is a tool of this sort.

So the first thing that we would say is that more accurate decision making is fairer because you’re not discriminating against people who could do the job.

And that leads me onto the next topic, which is about the quality of measurement.

In the United States of America where the laws are very strict on what’s called adverse impact, certain things are known to be non-discriminatory and valid personality measures, valid cognitive ability measures, valid values measures, and a thing called integrity testing, – which we call counterproductive work behaviour testing – has been shown in a range of environments, particularly backed with legal challenges to be defensible, to be not discriminatory against minorities.

So provided that the instruments are tailored to what will predict accurately success and failure at work, provided that they’re well developed and science based, then they don’t tend to discriminate.

Cultural biases in cognitive ability assessments

Now, there is something that you do need to be careful about in assessment, and that is assessment of cognitive ability, particularly verbal reasoning because verbal reasoning assessments and the verbal reasoning assessments that we use at SACS are based on the English language.

Now, naturally, if English is not your first language, you are going to get a lower score than somebody who has English as their first language.

Other forms of cognitive ability assessment, like numerical reasoning, which is about numbers and abstract reasoning, which is really about the sequence of things and whether you can see sequences tend not to be culturally biased because they are universal.

The shape progressions are universal.

Number systems are pretty much universal, so they don’t tend to discriminate.

People often ask me whether verbal reasoning assessment should be used on people who have English as a second language, and if the answer is that they don’t need to communicate in English, well, the answer, of course, is no, it doesn’t matter.

When verbal reasoning does matter at work

But if, on the other hand, your work instructions are in English and your supervision is in English and the person needs to communicate with customers or other stakeholders in English, then a verbal reasoning assessment can be an incredibly valuable tool.

You may not expect as high levels of verbal reasoning from a person with English a second language as you would from a primary English speaker, but if a person’s score is low enough in verbal reasoning, what that means is that they may well be functionally illiterate, in other words, not able to deal with English in a workplace.

And that’s a really useful thing to know.

So in summary, psychometric assessments are not of their nature discriminatory against people who come from minorities and in fact, properly applied, I think it can reduce bias where people look at a candidate and think, for whatever reason, this person isn’t right.

So happy hunting.

I hope that your next hire is everything that you’re hoping for.

And if you’re using valid psychometric assessments, there’s a greater probability that that will be the case.

Ready to explore further?

Learn more about our psychometric testing services or contact us today.

Discover Our Psychometric Testing Tools

Increase the accuracy of your recruitment decisions by up to 40% using psychometric assessments.

Psychometric testing predicts work outcomes, including:

  • Likelihood of success & failure at work
  • Counterproductive work behaviours
  • Occupational health and safety issues
  • Attitudes towards diversity

All of our psychometric assessments are based on research and backed by science.

See how SACS psychometric testing can enhance your hiring process and your existing workforce.

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Andrew Marty

Managing Director at SACS Consulting

Andrew is a qualified psychologist who has over 25 years of human resource management consulting experience, including extensive senior executive search and selection experience.

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