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Tackling Unconscious Bias in Your Hiring Process

By Jori Hamilton

Unconscious Bias

Image Source: Pexels

May 10 2021 - Time and time again, studies have shown that bias is common in the hiring process. As well-intentioned as each of us may be, bias can creep into our analysis of candidates whether we are aware of it or not. Unconscious racism, body-type discrimination, ageism, and sexism are all factors you may not have considered.

Luckily, avoiding this common business pitfall is possible with the right approach. Each one of us can learn to tackle unconscious bias in our hiring processes. From recognition to team brainstorming, apply these strategies for a more equitable workplace.

How to Recognize Unconscious Bias

Bias is a function of our minds that often aids us in decision-making processes. The use of bias in navigating our lives has been important to human survival as we evolved. But when it comes to hiring candidates, we must restrict this bias from unfairly limiting the opportunities of people different from ourselves. This means making the effort to recognize where you might be holding on to problematic stigma and stereotypes.

Even those who believe they would never allow unconscious bias to affect the way they interact with the workplace often find problematic behaviors in themselves upon thorough analysis. For example, a 2017 UK study showed that with otherwise identical resumes, "Adam" was offered three times more interviews than "Mohammad." Whether these hiring managers recognized that they favored white-sounding names or not, the results are irrefutable.

Your first step in unlearning these biases is finding out where they occur. Fortunately, there are a few analytical techniques that can help you catch problems in your worldview.

First is substitution. This technique involves imagining the candidate with different characteristics, perhaps matching your own race, age, or gender identity. If you find you would treat a candidate with a similar identity differently, then youíve found an area of personal bias. You can then work on eliminating this bias for more equitable hiring practices.

Second, you can practice viewing people as individuals first. As much as the world likes to put people in little boxes - saddling them with labels and all the associated stereotypes - every person is different. Learn to see people as more than their outward appearance, subcultures, and demographics. No group is monolithic, and keeping this in mind will help you see every candidateís inherent humanity.

Finally, you can use actual tools like Harvardís Implicit Bias Test to help you gauge blind spots in your self-assessment. The implicit associations you can explore with questionnaires like these allow you to find out where you might hold some unconscious bias. Even if you disagree with the results, you will have a better indication of what you might need to look out for.

Removing Bias as a Factor in Hiring

Now that youíve learned how to recognize where unconscious bias might exist, you are ready to take the proper steps in eliminating bias as a factor in your hiring process. Prejudices in everything from age to gender identity can cloud our perceptions, but removing these prejudices can be easier with constant self-interrogation and standardized non-discriminatory methods of researching candidates.

Removing bias as a factor comes down to the resources and experiences you create for yourself and your workspace. Expand your awareness with everything from diversity training to reading material that explores a world of different perspectives. Then, applying the following steps will help you and your employees craft a workplace free from bias both conscious and unconscious:

  1. Continuously explore your biases with self-interrogating questions like "Am I comfortable working with people of all shapes and sizes?"
  2. Explore narratives and feedback from diverse sources and employees that help you gain empathy for all kinds of situations.
  3. Rework your job descriptions to avoid words with masculine connotations such as "competitive."
  4. Hide demographic resume data during the review to go in blind.
  5. Structure your interviews with a standardized set of questions and an analytical rubric.

These strategies can all be powerful tools for mitigating the unfortunate biases that come from the stigma we pick up on from our youth. Combating these unconscious biases is a worthwhile endeavor, one that can have profound effects on a companies pool of talent. With studies showing that 75% of companies with diverse and inclusive decision-making teams will exceed their financial targets, taking the time and effort to end biased hiring will inevitably pay off.

Work towards diversity in demographics and equality in gender representation in your business with these helpful tips. The right approaches will be easy to maintain long-term and will serve to strengthen your team as a whole.

Strengthening Your Team

One of the most important things you can do in securing discrimination-free hiring practices is to invite the feedback of your colleagues and new hires. Group brainstorming techniques like mind-mapping, brainwriting, and starbursting can all help invite valuable collaboration and get your coworkers engaged in real solutions. Try out a few of these and see what innovative standards for eliminating bias your team can come up with.

Mitigating these underlying prejudices is essential for creating a better, smarter, more innovative workforce. Diversity makes any environment stronger. This is true in nature just as it is in the workplace. As we move to increasingly remote workspaces, supporting diversity efforts can be easier than ever given the open geographical pool from which to draw candidates. However, without first tackling our unconscious biases, these efforts will be in vain.

Learn to recognize your own unconscious biases now, then apply the strategies here for a more efficient and equitable workforce.

About the author

Jori Hamilton

Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity and marketing strategies. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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