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Ensuring Fairness in Virtual Assessment Centres: Strategies to Combat Potential Age Discrimination

Virtual assessment centres have become a staple in modern recruitment processes, their usage having risen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Figures from analyst firm Gartner reveal that 86% of businesses conducted virtual interviews during the pandemic. While the pandemic is now largely behind us, the advantages of these digital platforms have led to their continued adoption. Traditionally used to evaluate candidates through a series of structured exercises and interactions, these platforms transitioned to online formats in order to enable remote assessment. This shift not only adhered to social distancing norms practiced during Covid-19 but also expanded the geographical scope of companies, allowing them to access a wider pool of skilled workers without the constraints of physical location. Additionally, virtual assessment centres offer significant cost savings compared to traditional in-person assessment methods by reducing travel, venue, and logistical expenses for companies and have the added benefit of being more environmentally friendly. As businesses continue to embrace digital transformations, virtual assessment centres are a critical tool in the recruitment and development of employees.

Ethical concerns

While virtual assessment centres offer significant advantages, such as cost efficiency and broader accessibility, they are not devoid of ethical concerns. For example, data privacy is a primary issue, as the digital collection and storage of personal information raises questions about security and consent. There is also the risk of accessibility bias, a situation where candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds or those living in areas with poor internet connectivity may be disadvantaged. Furthermore, the AI or software used in these assessments could be inherently biased, reflecting prejudices present in their programming or training data, thus impacting the fairness of the process. A particularly pertinent ethical concern, however, is potential age discrimination.

Age discrimination

Age discrimination in virtual assessment centres can manifest in many subtle but impactful ways. Relying heavily on digital tools, the design of virtual assessments could potentially disadvantage older candidates who may not be as familiar with the latest technology as their younger counterparts. This situation may affect the performance of those who, despite having relevant skills, may be unfamiliar with the assessment medium. Additionally, the content of assessments may include cultural references or scenarios that resonate more with a younger demographic, producing a generational disconnect for older candidates. Communication styles preferred in assessments can also skew towards methods that may not be as well-suited to older candidates, such as rapid, concise presentation styles, potentially misrepresenting their true capabilities. In addition, assessors themselves might bring unconscious biases into the assessment process, stereotyping candidates based on age, such as viewing older candidates as overqualified or resistant to change, which can further perpetuate age discrimination. The World Health Organisation’s Global Report on Ageism points out that every second person holds ageist views against older individuals, highlighting a particular need for assessors to be aware of the potential for such biases. 

Furthermore, the AI and/or software employed in virtual assessment centres can introduce significant biases, impacting the fairness of the recruitment process. These systems are often programmed using datasets that may not adequately represent all demographic groups, including different age brackets. If the training data privileges certain age groups—typically younger demographics—the algorithms might develop biases that favour those groups in terms of how they respond to questions, engage with software, or even how data is interpreted. These technological biases can inadvertently lead to age discrimination, where older candidates are less likely to be favoured by the automated elements of the assessment due to differences in digital interaction patterns that the AI fails to account for. Moreover, if the AI system is not regularly updated or audited for fairness across different age groups, these biases can persist and magnify over time, further entrenching disparities.

Guarding against age discrimination

To effectively combat age discrimination and ensure fairness in virtual assessment centres, companies and assessors must adopt a multifaceted approach that integrates rigorous standardisation, anonymity, diversity, and continuous feedback mechanisms.

Standardised Processes: It is essential to establish standardised testing conditions that apply uniformly to all candidates. This means every aspect of the assessment—from the instructions given to the type of exercises used and the scoring rubrics—must be identical for each participant. Such standardisation ensures that the assessment is solely merit-based and prevents age-related biases from influencing outcomes.

Anonymous Assessments: By anonymising candidate information during the assessment process, companies can significantly reduce the impact of age biases. This approach involves stripping away any personal information that might indicate a candidate’s age, such as dates related to education or employment history, ensuring that the focus remains exclusively on their skills and the answers they provide.

Diverse Assessors: The diversity of the assessor panel is critical. By including assessors from a range of age groups, cultural backgrounds, and with different life experiences, the likelihood of age bias can be substantially diminished. A diverse assessor group brings varied perspectives, which helps to neutralise personal biases and promotes a more balanced evaluation of candidates.

Bias Training for Assessors: Providing comprehensive training on unconscious bias and age discrimination is crucial. Assessors need to be aware of their own potential biases and understand how these can influence their judgments. Effective training programs should not only raise awareness but also equip assessors with practical tools and techniques to mitigate bias during the evaluation process.

Technology and AI Tools: To mitigate the risk of AI tools inheriting biases from their training data, it is crucial to conduct regular audits to ensure that these technologies continually operate under strict protocols regarding fairness and impartiality. These audits should encompass thorough checks for any age-related biases and necessitate adjustments to algorithms to rectify any detected biases.

Regulatory Compliance and Best Practices: Adherence to local and international employment laws that protect against age discrimination is non-negotiable. Companies should continuously update their practices to align with the latest legal standards and best practices recommended by human resources practitioners and other recruitment experts. Such compliance will not only safeguard companies legally but also reinforce a culture of fairness.

Feedback Mechanisms: Enabling candidates to provide feedback on their assessment experience is vital. This feedback can be instrumental in identifying hidden biases or areas of the process that may inadvertently disadvantage candidates based on age. Regularly reviewing and acting on such feedback will help organisations to refine their assessment processes, ensuring they develop in order to become more inclusive over time.


In conclusion, virtual assessment centres, as pioneers in modern recruitment, require meticulous management to ensure protection against age discrimination. The transition to digital platforms should not perpetuate biases but rather embrace an inclusive and fair methodology that benefits candidates of all ages. It is crucial to handle the integration of technology in the assessment process with care, and companies should demonstrate a commitment to rigorous standards, including by using standardised processes and through employing a diverse range of assessors. As businesses navigate the complexities of digital transformation, the ultimate goal should remain unwavering—to cultivate an equitable environment that upholds the dignity and value of every candidate, fostering a workforce that is richly diverse and unified in its pursuit of excellence.

About the Author 

Dr Lara C. Roll is a Senior Associate at PwC Belgium, an External Researcher at KU Leuven (Belgium) and an Extraordinary Researcher at North-West University (South Africa). She was an Academic Visitor at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing in Trinity 2022.

Opinions of the blogger is their own and not endorsed by the Institute

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