Unconscious bias is an unavoidable part of any hiring process, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to reduce its impact on your final hiring decision. Unconscious bias refers to those subconscious attitudes that all people have towards other peopled based on anything from race and gender to wealth and age. It’s important to remember that unconscious bias isn’t necessarily intentional or malicious, but that it can lead to negative hiring outcomes for certain groups, most frequently minorities and women. And there’s a ton of data out there showing how the sum of these biases lead to negative outcomes in the hiring space.
As more and more companies are making diversity a hiring initiative, it’s more important than ever to minimize the effects of unconscious bias in order to make those goals a reality. Here are a couple of ways that companies can start to reduce the impact of unconscious bias:
1. Educate Hiring Managers about It
This may seem obvious, but one of the first and simplest steps is to simply educate your executives and hiring managers about what unconscious bias actually is. Knowing more about it makes it easier to spot when it might be clouding your own judgment. This knowledge can be passed on to hiring managers through unconscious bias training. Understanding the problem at the outset can take away some of its power and help those in hiring positions to actively question and reflect upon their initial perceptions of a candidate.
2. Standardize the Hiring Process
Part of reducing unconscious bias involves giving each job candidate the same opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. To make sure that each candidate is treated the same way, it’s important to standardize the hiring process so that every person is going through the same steps. You don’t necessarily need to have the same hiring process for every position in your company – an entry-level role rarely involves the same hiring timeline as an executive position. But when you are hiring candidates for a single position, it’s important to make sure they are being evaluated through the same process.
3. Adopt Structured Interviews
One way to make sure your hiring process is treating each candidate fairly is by using structured interviews. The interview is one part of the process that is highly vulnerable to unconscious bias because it involves evaluating a person face-to-face. On an unconscious level, people tend to make assumptions based on qualities that aren't job-related, such as their gender, race, likeability, or how much in common they may have with you. Loose or unstructured interviews can often get sidetracked with unrelated conversations about hobbies or interests that can lead a hiring manager to prefer a candidate that they like on a personal level rather than the best person for the job.
Obviously everyone wants to hire people that they would enjoy working with on a daily basis, but likeability can’t overshadow how someone's job-related potential. Structured interviews help you remain more objective by keeping the interview focused on a standardized set of questions specifically designed to evaluate how well the candidate will perform in that role. In fact, structured interviews aren’t just beneficial at reducing unconscious bias; they’re also significantly better at predicting job performance, which is the ultimate goal when hiring a new employee.
4. Administer Pre-Employment Tests
Another objective (and highly predictive) factor to incorporate into your hiring process is pre-employment assessments. These tests provide objective data on how likely a candidate is to be successful in a particular role. Some of the most common types of tests include cognitive ability, personality assessments, and skills tests. These assessments provide such great value in the hiring process because they are one of the most predictive factors of job performance. Even better, they provide a way to objectively compare your entire candidate pool without the influence of unconscious bias. When every candidate gets to take the same assessments, it creates an even playing ground for everyone to be able to demonstrate their potential in the same way.
5. Try Out Blind Hiring
Blind hiring is one way to directly remove some of the factors that might trigger unconscious bias, such as names or email addresses. Many of the early studies on unconscious bias found that the resumes of women and minorities in particular were more frequently overlooked because of the assumptions made about their names, despite having the same qualifications as other candidates. For this reason, blind hiring can be a great tool to use when screening resumes in particular, because it allows you to purely evaluate a candidate’s relevant work experience and skills without being influenced by any assumptions about their background. This enables you to focus in on merit alone so that the right people are being invited to the next stage of the hiring process.
Unconscious bias isn’t going to disappear any time soon, but becoming more aware about what it is and how it affects hiring decisions is the first step to counteracting its effects. The ultimate outcome for reducing unconscious bias isn’t just to create fairer hiring practices; it’s also to increase the chance that the people you do choose to hire are the most likely to succeed on the job.
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