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Reducing Bias in Your Hiring Practices

We’re taking a closer look at bias in the hiring process. While there is no surefire way to eliminate bias, we explore some tangible steps to identify and reduce it at your organization. We hope these resources and practices help you raise awareness about the effects of unconscious influence on your hiring targets and goals.

There are two kinds of bias. Known bias, which are the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in a conscious way. And implicit bias, which refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University notes that implicit biases “encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments and are activated involuntarily without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.”

Implicit biases shape our judgment and can lead us to make decisions in favor of a person or group of people even when we may not be aware we are doing so. In the workplace, implicit bias can influence who is considered for promotion or hire. As Iris Bohnet, Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School shares with the Harvard Business Review, “left unchecked, biases can also shape a company or industry’s culture and norms.”

Confronting bias at your organization requires a reexamination of practices and procedures. The Harvard Business Review shares some strategies for combating hiring bias in their article “7 Practical Ways to Reduce Bias in Your Hiring Process.” Below is their summarized list of their Do’s and Don’ts to help you get started:

 

Do:

  • Experiment with the wording of job listings by removing adjectives closely associated with a particular gender. Research shows that masculine language, including adjectives like “competitive” and “determined,” result in women “perceiving that they would not belong in the work environment.” On the other hand, words like “collaborative” and “cooperative” tend to draw more women than men.
  • Ask candidates to take a work sample or skills test. These can be helpful tools to compare applicants and an effective predictor of future job performance as opposed to solely reviewing prior experience.
  • Control for your personal feelings about a particular candidate by giving ‘likability’ a numerical score in your interviewing rubric.

Don’t:

  • Engage in unstructured interviews. Instead, standardize the interview process by asking candidates the same set of questions.
  • Allow surface demographic characteristics to play into your resume review. Hide names or other demographic information while reviewing resumes or other application materials.
  • Neglect to set diversity goals. Be sure to track how well you’re doing on them across your organization.

 

Additionally, The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a nonprofit focused on women’s participation in technology, put together this checklist for reducing unconscious bias. You may recognize this resource from our earlier article about writing job descriptions which is a specific part of the hiring process where bias can have an impact.

These are just a few resources and steps to get you started. Taking on implicit bias at your organization in a meaningful way involves looking closely at your practices, culture, and commitment to making change. Examining hiring practices specifically is an important place to begin and we hope these tools are useful to you. If you’re interested in taking a look at your own personal implicit biases, follow this link to take one of the tests offered by Project Implicit.

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