Avoiding Adverse Impact: Selection Procedures That Increase Organizational Diversity

Using cognitive tests as part of an employee selection process will generally help more than various other methods (such as interviews) to ensure the selection of better performing individuals. There are some methods that are slightly better predictors of performance, but cognitive tests have proven to be a mainstay.

Unfortunately, the use of such tests can lead to discriminatory hiring practices against minority groups, who often score below their white counterparts due to a variety of factors.

Different strategies have been proposed to counteract this adverse impact in selection procedures in order to ensure a fairer hiring process and encourage greater diversity within the workplace. The research reviewed here investigated one such strategy.


Adverse Impact is a means of measuring this type of discrimination. It is calculated by dividing the selection ratio from the lower scoring group of applicants (a minority group) by the selection ratio of the higher scoring comparison group (historically, more privileged groups).

Adverse Impact towards the minority group has occurred if the result of these calculations is less than 4/5ths. This is a way of guarding against discriminatory selection practices and ensuring a more diverse and representative workforce.

When cognitive tests are used for selection procedures, it is perceived that the organization now has to make a trade-off between selection criteria related to work performance and selecting for diversity by adhering to the Adverse Impact ratio.



One strategy for overcoming Adverse Impact is to weigh cognitive and non-cognitive tests differently. The researchers investigated the use of this weighting strategy on cognitive sub-tests, which represented the second-order stratum of cognitive ability.

Second-order cognitive abilities are not specific individual abilities, but rather a broader constellation of related abilities, yet still more refined than a measure of general cognitive ability (known as g). For example, measuring acquired knowledge in reading and writing (stratum II) would include relationships across vocabulary, reading comprehension, and analogy tests.

The researchers hypothesized that, although general cognitive ability may be a fairly good predictor of later performance, the stratum II abilities may be better predictors when a job requires that specific ability. By using a sophisticated weighing technique with varying values for specific abilities related to a job, the researchers found that this method could improve minority hiring, but not at the expense of selection quality if a test of general cognitive ability was used.



This research is particularly interesting for managers and recruiters because it provides a clear way forward in decreasing the possible Adverse Impact of company selection procedures, which helps to create a more diverse workforce.

Workplace diversity has been shown to have multiple benefits in terms of organizational outcomes. But you can also rest assured that using such weighted methods won’t decrease the quality of hires if the abilities are shown to relate to the job.