4 Ways to avoid cultural bias in international people assessments

4 Ways to avoid cultural bias in international people assessments

26.04.2017 By Laura.Parrack

In today’s working world we are all part of a global network. When looking to recruit internationally, or when you’ve got offices in multiple locations, it’s crucial to consider cultural differences in your people assessments. But it is often difficult to avoid cultural bias when exploring whether someone meets the requirements of a role and matches the values of your company.

By Linda Vodegel Matzen and Marit Op de Beek, Cubiks Netherlands

Whether we are aware of it or not, things that are considered common in one country and objectionable in another are often characterized by the subtlest differences. Those differences influence how we understand each other and how we get things done when working together.

For many employers, people assessments are common practice in sifting, selecting and developing employees. And rightly so. Rigorous assessments are the best way to predict whether the right employees are or will be in the right positions within the organization. To be fair and objective when assessing international candidates, it’s important to be culturally aware and to avoid cultural bias.

In her book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer explains cultural differences between countries by introducing eight dimensions on which they can differ from one another. These are; communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling. Plotting various countries in relation to these dimensions gives us a better understanding of their cultural differences.

culture map comparing cultural differences

4 Key ways to improve your international assessment approach

Below, we’ve highlighted four key things to consider when assessing employees with different cultural backgrounds.

1: Apply culturally fair assessment instruments

To be able to fairly judge and compare candidates from different cultural backgrounds, it’s important to use culturally fair assessment instruments. Good test providers develop their psychometric tools to be fair and valid across cultures. Look for proven solutions that robustly deliver insight into an individual’s work-related personality characteristics, ability, and competencies.

When developing culturally fair assessments, the R&D team at Cubiks takes into account important questions such as; do the concepts we mention exist in every language and culture? Can they be understood and are they translatable?

To adequately tackle these kinds of challenges, test items should be written by experts from a broad range of cultural backgrounds and of various nationalities. Subsequently, they need to be tested on reliability and validity across multiple countries. Only then can we be confident that each candidate will receive a fair assessment, with limited cultural bias.

2: Consider how tests are translated

It isn’t enough to simply translate assessments into different languages. Straightforward translations can miss the cultural nuances in various languages. This is why backtranslation is essential. Items in a test or questionnaire should go through the process of backtranslation; whereby they are translated from the source language to the target language, and subsequently, by a separate translator, back from the target language to the source language.

The original item and the backtranslated item should then be compared, to check whether the content matches and the meaning is still the same. If it is, then the item can be included in multinational assessments. This method ensures that when tests and questionnaires are translated, they are fair and relevant in all languages and cultures.

3: Use local norm groups

Using items that are understood in the same way for everyone, regardless of cultural background, is a good start – but we must also recognize that most cultures have their own culture specific values. Some norms and values only exist in certain cultures, or are considered more important in those cultures. That’s why your assessments should have specific, tailored standards for every country.

By using local norm groups, you will also be able to objectively compare a candidate with the norm groups of countries other than his/her own. Using this method, it’s easy to understand how an individual characterizes him/herself in comparison to his/her own cultural background as well as other cultures. This contributes to our understanding of how certain scores are influenced by cultural differences. This equips assessors with valuable knowledge to use during face-to-face assessments.

4: Ensure your assessors are culturally aware

To minimize cultural bias, assessors who interpret and discuss assessment results with participants should have training to ensure they are culturally aware. These individuals need to understand not only the cultural differences between themselves and participants, but also the relationship between the cultural background of participants and the culture of the country in which the organization is located.

In addition, training needs to raise awareness in assessors of the difficulties that can arise in distinguishing between characteristics that are personal and those that are culturally determined. Plus, it is often possible that people can be influenced by multiple cultures. Trained assessors will take all of these factors into account; delivering evaluations that explore the cultural differences between an employer and potential employee. This kind of dialogue builds an understanding of the possible problems the individual may encounter, as well as which traits and competencies might help or hinder them.

Assessors with knowledge of these areas and a high degree of self-awareness can use their discussions with candidates to gain an in-depth perspective on their suitability for a role and make an objective recommendation as a result.


At Cubiks, we pride ourselves on our understanding of the complex dynamics associated with international recruitment and people development.

If you’d like to know more about how we can support your organization with international assessments, email info@cubiks.com or fill in the form below and we’ll get back to you.

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Meyer, Erin (2014): ‘The Culture Map’, http://erinmeyer.com/book/