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Ways to remove unconscious bias from the hiring process

October 10, 2017

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Most employers understand the importance of having a diverse workforce and take positive steps to implement diversity initiatives in their training and recruitment programs.  Despite these efforts, unconscious bias can still come into play when it comes to both hiring and employment related decisions.
Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. It is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, and influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences.  It happens automatically and is outside of our control.  Over the years, there have been many studies documenting the impact in the workplace of unconscious biases.
A 2004 study by Timothy Judge at the University of Florida found that for every inch of height, a tall worker can expect to earn an extra $789 per year. Obese workers (those who have a Body Mass Index of more than 30) are paid less than normal-weight coworkers at a rate of $8,666 a year for obese women, and $4,772 a year for obese men, according to a George Washington University study that cited data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 2004.  A Yale University study from Daniel Hamermesh finds employers pay a beauty premium to attractive employees.  The beautiful workers earn an average of roughly five percent more, while unattractive employees can miss out on up to almost nine percent, according to the study.
According to Iris Bohnet, Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, left unchecked, biases can shape a company or industry’s culture and norms.  “Seeing is believing.  If we don’t see male kindergarten teachers or female engineers we don’t naturally associate women and men with these jobs, and we apply different standards when hiring, promoting and evaluating job performance.”
So while it would be almost impossible to remove unconscious bias from an individual, listed below are some proactive steps employers can take to remove unconscious bias from their recruiting processes:

  • Review and rework your job descriptions – The use of certain words in job descriptions can impact who applies for that position.  There are words that are considered more masculine or more feminine which can impact your applicant pool.  Examples of more masculine leaning words include challenge, lead, independent, and confident.  Examples of more feminine leaning words include support, cooperate, understand, and collaborative.  A software program called Textio is used by organizations such as Twitter and Starbucks to offer analysis on job descriptions.  The job description is entered and software will classify words and phrases as positive, negative, masculine, feminine, or repetitive.
  • Standardized process to evaluate resumes – Before the screening process even begins, develop a list of the criteria that is required for the position.  For example, is experience more important than education?  Once the qualifications are determined, review every resume with the same evaluation criteria, and create a scoring metric.  Another strategy is to use a blind resume reviewing process whereby identifying information about the candidate is removed.  Software programs are available that provide employers with anonymous profiles and remove information around gender and ethnicity.
  • Standardized process to interview candidates – Once applicants are selected to interview, a standardized script and interviewing questions should be utilized.  This process will make it easier to compare candidates and identify the best qualified candidate, not necessarily the one that you have the most in common with or similar background.
  • Collaborative Hiring – Create interview teams made up of employees with diverse experiences and backgrounds to help assess and interview candidates.  

The first step for employers is to understand that unconscious bias exists and to use this awareness to implement steps and processes to reduce it.  The end result will be more diverse, productive, and effective teams.

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