Everyone can be influenced by unconscious biases. Recognizing the existence of biases and developing strategies to overcome them can help ensure a fair and equitable workplace.
This is especially important when hiring new staff — a process in which biases can easily influence decisions. That’s why we asked 15 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust to share their best advice for companies looking to remove unconscious biases from their hiring practices. Their recommendations are below.
1. Be open-minded.
Never assume the person doesn’t meet your needs. Meeting the minimum job requirements is just a way to cull through the résumés. Don’t be afraid to meet with or talk to potential employees regardless of your initial thoughts, because those thoughts could be influenced by unconscious biases. – Daniel Wilson, Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson Architecture & Preservation
2. Redact names from the first screening round.
For the initial review, send the résumés of promising candidates to the hiring manager/team with the names redacted. If it’s a good fit, their gender, race or who they are — or anything else — won’t matter. – Russell Harrell, SFB IDEAS – a Strategic Marketing firm
3. Look beyond a four-year college degree.
Stop requiring a four-year degree. Tech hiring giants Tesla, Apple, Google, Netflix, IBM, EY, Hilton and Bank of America are just a few that no longer require employees to have four-year degrees. It’s an acknowledgment that people and careers are not a one-size-fits-all journey. I like to look at what candidates bring to the table, not what boxes they check. – Betsy Hauser, Tech Talent South
4. Clearly define the role.
Being crystal clear on the role and the strengths needed from the new hire is critical. If you hone in on exactly the skillset you are seeking, the new hire can be more of a data-driven exploration. Focusing on facts allows unconscious bias to take a back seat. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management
5. Focus on attributes for success.
Your set of qualifications for a particular role in your company often comes with some sort of unconscious bias attached. Maybe the requirement for a certain level of experience or a degree is automatically weeding out good prospects. Focus on the attributes it takes to be successful at your company — the way they think, ability, hunger to achieve, etc. — rather than traditional qualification metrics. – Jenn Kenning, Align Impact
6. Use objective tools and consistent processes.
We believe in using objective tools and consistent processes as much as possible to determine if our job applicants are a culture fit and how they would approach the role if they won it. We’ve found that this has not only improved our retention rate — because our new employees are a better fit than in the past — but that our staff has also become more diverse as a result. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove
7. Always include at least two people in every step of the process.
Bias is always going to happen, so it’s important to take steps. From a résumé standpoint, I would have two people in each review session who then collectively review finalists with another person. Second, when conducting interviews, always have two team members there — even for a phone screening. Sure, it takes time and resources, but I feel that this is an important investment of our time to find the right person. – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.
8. Have a cross-functional, cross-cultural interview team.
Unconscious bias is a human trait — we all have biases. One method for reducing bias is to have a cross-functional and cross-cultural interview team and making sure that every person weighs in on the decision. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners
9. Identify and look beyond your biases.
The first step is recognizing your potential bias(es) and then being willing to look beyond your bias to try and understand the positives that someone may bring to your organization. While those positives may be different than your expectations for the role, they may be strengths that you did not previously anticipate. – Robin Throckmorton, strategic HR inc.
10. Adhere to a standard interview process.
Have a structured interview process. Having a standard interview, with each candidate going through the same steps, minimizes the effect unconscious bias has on your recruiting team. Creating a structured process with standard questions and scenarios is key for ensuring all of your applicants are assessed the same way. This allows your team to focus on the factors that have a direct impact on performance. –Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group
11. Encourage everyone to recognize their biases.
Awareness and recognition will be the first step in overcoming biases. Once you are aware of these things in the workplace, the next thing to do is to make recognizing biases a consistent part of your organization. It should be part of the organizational culture so that your new staff will recognize fair treatment from the onset, during onboarding and on the job. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
12. Ask the same questions in the same order.
I often help clients hire sales reps. To eliminate bias, I ask the same questions in the same order in early interviews. I have found this helps keep the playing field level and we don’t just choose a person simply because we establish common ground in the first few minutes of an interview. – Linda Bishop, Thought Transformation
13. Encourage open communication and mindfulness about bias.
One simple step is to eliminate names and photos from the initial application review process so you are evaluating people based on the merits of their applications alone. Further, open communication internally and proactive mindfulness around this issue, as well as providing a pathway for historically underrepresented groups, can help combat unconscious bias. – Jonathan Keyser, Keyser
14. Give a sample assignment and have a blind review.
First, it is important to recognize that unconscious bias exists. Work to eradicate it by hiring candidates based purely on their ability to do the work. As part of the application, give them an assignment without seeing them or knowing their name or gender. Then, interview only the candidates who turn in the best work. This ensures your personal, unconscious biases are not part of the equation. – Jeffrey Bartel, Hamptons Group, LLC
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