As human beings, we are constantly making decisions and judgments about the people in our environment. Sometimes we realize we’re doing it and other times we don’t. Implicit or unconscious bias is when we make judgments about others unknowingly that influence our perception of that person, either in a positive or negative light. In a hiring context, this can mean unknowingly sorting out strong candidates because of underlying bias instead of giving each job applicant a fair shot. It can be the difference between some candidates facing invisible barriers and others sailing through the process. If you’re serious about truly supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives at your organization, then learning how to handle unconscious bias when hiring is a must. Where does bias most impact the hiring process and what can you do to decrease it?
Fight bias when you hire
What can you do to become more aware of bias in your hiring process? It’s not an easy task trying to make the unseen seen but it’s worth it to take a long hard look at how you hire and what impact that strategy has had on your diversity efforts. If you’re still seeing a lack of diversity in your workforce, it likely stems from how you hire and the biases that have been built into your process. Consider the following:
Understand what unconscious bias is: There are many types of unconscious bias that might impact the hiring process. Some are more commonly known than others. The Halo Effect, for instance, is when you learn one positive thing about a candidate that then clouds your judgement of everything else they’ve done. The Horns Effect, of course, would be the opposite and lead to discounting a candidate because of one negative thing you discover. Other common biases include having a Similarity Bias which is liking others who are like you, a Confirmation Bias where we look for evidence to back up our own opinions, or an Affinity Bias which is feeling a connection over a shared affinity like a hometown or college. Understanding these biases and identifying them when they arise during an interview is a key step in eliminating barriers for your candidates.
Look at how your write your job descriptions: There’s been a lot of talk lately about job descriptions and the language you use to write them. Many of us probably reuse old job postings or throw a job ad up on social media before really thinking about what sort of words are being used and what message they may be conveying to candidates. To rid your posts of bias, try to use gender neutral words. That means checking what pronouns are used throughout the ad and noticing gender-charged vocabulary. Also try to decrease the number of requirements you’re looking for. Research suggests women are likely to apply to a job when they meet 100% of the requirements whereas men apply at 60%. Throwing a laundry list of wants into your job ad may skew your candidate pool. And don’t forget to add a section to your job ad about what sort of work environment you’re offering. If your company prides itself on an inclusive culture, make sure candidates know that when they’re looking for places to apply.
Use assessments: Relying on data is an important way to decrease bias. When you’re not sure if your unconscious biases are impacting your decision making, assessments can provide an objective way of learning more about a candidate’s true capabilities. They can provide insight into a candidate’s temperament and how well they might fit into a team or role before an offer is made. Of course, hiring the right candidate should be about more than a single test score, but assessments can be one piece of the puzzle that relies on science rather than instinct. It gives you a way to compare candidates on an even basis and can inform what sort of questions you ask during an interview to ensure you’re getting a real view of your candidate’s abilities.
Train your team how to interview: Do people in your company interview well? Few of us ever have formal training in how to conduct a fair interview yet it’s the most important part of the hiring process. Spend some time teaching your hiring managers or HR team the basics of a good interview. Start with unconscious bias training and give managers a list of biases they might face and how to identify them when they happen. Discuss strategies to combat those biases so that candidates are treated fairly. You should also use a structured interview approach with behavioural based questions. This means creating a plan and set of questions for your interview that you use with every candidate to give them each a fair chance at providing the same type of information. Avoid yes or no questions and instead ask candidates to tell stories or share past experiences to gain a better sense of who they are and what they might bring to the team if hired.
Hire blind: In the wake of the 2020 global protests against racism that swept nearly every major city, hiring blind has become a top talent trend. Blind hiring is when you omit any sort of personal information that would identify the candidate or impact a hiring decision. This can include a person’s name, address, even school information to anonymize a resume. Some company then assign these stripped resumes with numbers to keep track of them, but the point is no one knows who you’re talking about when discussing who to bring in for an interview. Candidates are judged purely on the strength of their achievements. Removing clues to a candidate’s identity helps keep the playing field even and over time will increase the diversity of the employees entering the company.
We need to actively identify bias
Bias can be explicit or implicit. When we see overt racism or sexism those occurrences are easy to notice and easy to condemn. But it’s the more insidious bias that is harming our workforce and decreasing the diversity of employees. Unconscious or implicit bias can pervade the hiring process and rob companies of excellent employees merely because there are unseen barriers to entry that are sorting great people out. Identifying such biases is a cornerstone to improving the fairness of your hiring approach and ensuring all candidates receive an interview experience that’s free from stereotyping. Take a good look at how you are sourcing, screening, interviewing, and communicating with your candidates to see if there are any unintentional obstacles facing your job applicants. When they’re removed, everyone wins from the candidates who can count on a fair evaluation to the company that improves the diversity of their workforce.