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To Hire Well, Check Your Baggage

5 practical steps to ensure that implicit bias doesn't short circuit your diversity hiring goals

Deborah Hill
Contributor

When it comes to business innovation and profitability, the most creative ideas and solutions come from highly diverse teams. Sounds straightforward, right? Add ‘diversity’ to your hiring plan and you’re good to go. Well, not so much. Even the most forward-thinking businesses stumble in hiring for real team diversity.

To get started, it helps to frame what diversity means today. (Hint: It’s not minority hiring quotas.) Hiring diverse candidates means you consciously value the entirety of the prospective employee’s practical skills, academic training, cultural and socioeconomic background, racial and ethnic heritage, gender identity, personality, life experiences, and so on. The goal is to harness the insight and perspective of each person’s intellectual, social, moral and emotional characteristics. This all sounds doable, right? So, what gets in the way?

Everyone Has Biases. It’s Complicated.

Excluding pesky issues such as out and out racism, prejudice or nepotism, even the most well-intentioned HR teams, many of whom we get to work with every week at InHerSight , can struggle to make diversity headway. And the way we individually make decisions about others is a powerful and oddly hidden hurdle.

One explanation is our innate human nature to size each other up. We do this continuously throughout the day to gain context for how to interact with others. It’s an adaptive skill author Malcolm Gladwell called ‘thin-slicing’ in his 2005 book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” We draw conclusions about others based on our own knowledge and experience, and this is both good and bad. The accuracy of our conclusions is bounded by the breadth of our experience, after all. According to Gladwell, when our experience and knowledge is narrow or corrupted, our conclusions are not accurate. So, when it comes to hiring ‘strangers,’ you can see why it is genuinely more difficult to evaluate candidates who are very different from the existing team.

We are also prone to implicit bias — favoritisms, stereotypes, and prejudices that shape our opinions about others, often subconsciously. Everyone has biases, to some degree. (Yes, everyone.) And, although we learn the most from people who are the most different from us — we are most comfortable around people who are the most like us. We lean away from risk and the unknown and towards candidates we are sure can get along with the status quo.

All of this makes hiring to harness diversity so difficult. It’s expensive to hire and train employees, and doubly so when someone doesn’t work out in the end. As a result, to be successful in building diversity, companies need to be savvy about the pitfalls of unchecked implicit bias in their HR processes.

How to Ditch the Baggage

Here are some practical steps and real resources to ensure that implicit biases don’t short circuit your hiring goals.

1. Educate Hiring Teams About Implicit Bias

Make discussions of implicit bias a required step in preparing hiring teams for each position recruitment. Share articles such as Scientific American’s “How to Think about Implicit Bias” to educate and inform.

Being aware that everyone has biases can help teams consciously question their individual and group thinking. The benefits of raising the collective consciousness on this issue are far reaching. Biases affect how the whole company functions, after all, not just when evaluating prospective employees.

Curious about your own bias? Social science researchers have developed several implicit association tests aimed at helping individuals gain self-awareness about their personal cognitive stumbling blocks. Check out Harvard’s Project Implicit , or Understanding Prejudice’s gender bias test . Although there is controversy on the accuracy of measuring implicit bias, such tests can certainly spark introspection.

2. Rewrite the Job Ad

The next step is to ensure you attract the largest possible applicable pool. Check to make sure your job description does not use gendered language — wording that particularly attracts or discourages either men or women. There are several free online tools available:

3. Be Wary With Referrals and Incentivize Diversity

Employers love candidate referrals from trusted individuals. Applicants with such testimonial support have a serious leg up in competing for jobs. The downside is that such referrals may not advance your diversity goals. According to PayScale data, job referrals help white men a LOT more than women or people of color , writes LinkedIn blogger Samantha McLaren. “White men are 12% more likely to be hired through a referral than any other group, and get a better salary,” she explains.

Mclaren notes that companies such as Pinterest have tackled the referral preference problem by incentivizing referrals of women and candidates from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds. Intel Corporation, a semiconductor manufacturing company, offers bigger bonuses for diverse referrals, McLaren wrote.

PayScale VP of Content Strategy Lydia Frank notes in the Harvard Business Review that companies should pay close attention to how candidates come into their business talent pool . That analysis will provide clues on how to adjust recruitment to achieve more diverse applicant pools. Also, she advises, once candidates enter the interview process, do not give referrals any special treatment. Allow all candidates to compete for open positions fairly through standard review processes. And, once you make that hire, pay attention to salary equity and don’t unfairly reward referral candidates.

4. Conduct Blind Resume Reviews

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends using blind resume review by redacting bias-triggering information that reveals age, race, religion, political leanings, education milestone dates, name, whether the candidate has children, and even the candidate’s address. The goal is to blunt resume reviewers’ innate preference to hire people who are like them.

Be careful to keep the whole pre-interview process blind, however. Many businesses use Skype or other video-based interviews to pre-screen candidates because the tools are cost-effective. However, the downside of such tools is they won't short circuit bias.

5. Use Structured Interviews

And finally, conduct all candidate interviews using the same set of questions and be consistent. Standardized questions help to counter bias in several ways. Such structured interviews make it easier to compare candidates equally, and research bears out their value in helping to identify employees who will be successful with your company, according to 42hire.com .

Hiring to achieve diversity takes insight and no small amount of strategy, but the rewards are worth it.

By Deborah Hill

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