As our culture moves to be more inclusive and works to promote diversity, companies are attempting to minimize all forms of discrimination within their hiring process. But, at the end of the day, an employer must make a decision of one person over another and that can be distorted by bias. Even if you don’t believe you’re biased, it’s implicit in human nature and the way we make decisions.

Being Conscious of Unconscious Bias

You know how important it is to make a good first impression. In seven seconds we develop a first impression of a person. Those seven seconds are all it takes to prefer one candidate over another in the hiring process. Our implicit bias is a collection of social experiences, attitudes, and stereotypes that affect our behavior subconsciously.

This can happen before anyone at the company even speaks with a job seeker. A candidate’s alma mater, age, hometown, even their name can create preference and unconscious bias.In 2017, Inside Out London sent out two candidate resumes, ”Adam” and “Mohamed”, who had identical skills and experience. In response to 100 job opportunities, Adam was offered 12 interviews while Mohamed was offered four. It showed a considerable bias for job seekers with non-Anglo names. Read more about the Inside Out London study.

How to Uncover Personal Bias

One way to practice recognizing bias is by using a substitution test. Imagine a different person you know and substitute them into the situation. See if you view the situation in the same light. This bit of introspection can help you start to question why you think about a person this way. When evaluating a situation – conflict with a coworker, hiring, considering a promotion, deciding whether to trust someone – think about the person at the center of that situation. Now think of someone you know who is different – perhaps a different age, or gender, or race – and ask yourself whether you’d view the situation in the same light if you were dealing with that person instead. This bit of introspection can help you start to uncover the kinds of biases you might bring into your evaluation process.

Another tactic is to consider who you would reach out to for advice on an issue. Who is on the list of your personal advisory board, and how similar to you are they? You may find many share your economic, education, and demographic backgrounds, leading to a group of people who likely think very similar to yourself. It may be time to challenge yourself and seek out people with different perspectives.

One way to challenge your own perspective and biases is by joining a formal peer advisory forum. EWF’s peer advisory forums are professionally curated to ensure diversity of perspective, background, experience, and industry. The tricky thing about bias is that it is, in fact, largely implicit – or hidden from our conscious minds most of the time. These forums are authentic, confidential spaces where women can broaden their perspectives, confront their biases, and find genuine, politics-free support to tackle real-world, real-time issues. EWF International offers peer advisory forums for Business Owners, Executives, plus Managers and Directors.

You can also take the free Project Implicit assessment developed by Harvard researchers to gauge your conscious and unconscious preference for 90 topics ranging from pets to politics.

How to Reduce Hiring Process Bias

The key practice in reducing hiring bias is to be intentional in discovering, continually challenging, and reducing the impact of your own implicit bias. This requires focus, attention, and intentional action on your part. Everyone has bias, and must focus on managing it to ensure fair treatment during hiring processes.

Blindfold the Resume Review Process

Up front, create a process to remove all resume information not directly related to the position’s qualifications. Research shows that hiring managers often make snap judgements based on personal information like name and gender on a resume, particularly in early stages of screening candidates. In the 1970s, US Orchestras recognized they had a gender parity problem. To tackle it,  they began holding blind auditions to help promote fair treatment during auditions with the aim of hiring more diverse (particularly female) musicians. The director and auditioning musician were separated and would not see or speak to each other, allowing the musicians to be judged solely on their musical aptitude. By 1993, woman musicians comprised 21% of five of the highest-ranked US orchestras, up from 7% in 1970. Clearly, there is still a long ways to go, but this shows how powerfully implicit bias can skew hiring practices. 

Conduct Diverse, Multi-Step Interviews

Whenever possible, ensure that interviews include more than a single interviewer and that the interviewers are intentional about identifying and managing their own biases during the process. It’s also ideal to have as diverse a panel of interviewers across all interviews as possible, to help reduce individual bias and more accurately evaluate a candidate’s qualifications from many perspectives. A word of warning, though – often, when teams lack diversity, being included in every hiring process can overwhelm the lone woman or minority on the team. Be mindful of their time and other work duties and be intentional about compensating them for their participation if it adds substantially to their normal duties.

Standardize Interview Questions to Reduce Bias

You know the importance as an interviewee to try and build rapport with an interviewer and that the best interviews are a mixture of structured and unstructured conversation. However, those unstructured tangents and side conversations can quickly strengthen bias for or against a candidate. 
Make sure interviewers pay particular attention to unstructured conversations that build rapport so likability and mini-me bias does not take over.

EWF International offers corporate training programs that can help your company develop a diverse leadership pipeline, improve gender parity, and help your managers become better interviewers. We also offer custom facilitation and speaking engagements such a lunch and learn events for your teams. Request more information.

Overcoming Bias

Everyone has bias, and there’s no easy fix for it. Like many things, it takes intentional, continuous work and attention. Learn to embrace the sometimes uncomfortable stress response of being introspective about your own biases, and challenging them daily. By embracing the discomfort, you’ll gain confidence and strengthen your emotional intelligence, helping that uncomfortable feeling will lessen day by day.

Beware of silos and echo chambers, where everyone agrees with and/or looks like you. These are often the places where we are most comfortable – but they can create strong blind spots in our own perspectives. Intentionally diversify your network, your peer groups, and your perspective. Tackling bias takes repetition, practice, and the willingness to vulnerable. It often creates a stress response and makes us uncomfortable. Identifying the source of that discomfort can help you make thoughtful decisions in spite of your bias.

Perhaps most important of all is practicing empathy. Even with the best of conscious efforts, your unconscious bias will still exist. Listening and seeking to understand different points of view can help make you, your hiring process, and your organization better.

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