Talent Management

4 tips to reduce bias and hire a more diverse workforce

reduce bias workforce

In this three-part series on implicit bias in hiring, we focus on understanding this issue at its core level and its impact on building a diverse workforce. We then look at ways we can short-circuit these challenges right now by making changes in how we hire and, later, how to eliminate these biases in the long run through concentrated effort.

Part I: What is implicit bias in hiring?

Part III: How to overcome implicit bias in your hiring process

When Vistage speaker Rebecca Heiss talks about how people fail to recognize implicit bias, she tells this parable by the late author David Foster Wallace: “Two fish are swimming along in the water, and an older fish swims by and asks ‘How’s the water, boys?’ One fish turns to the other and asks, ‘What’s water?’” 

Heiss says implicit bias is an unconscious reaction people have to other groups that has kept companies from developing more diverse workforces over the years. A meta-analysis of research bears this out, showing that hiring biases against Black and Latinx candidates stayed the same over a 25-year period.

But there are steps companies can take immediately to help curtail the effects of implicit bias and attract a more diverse talent pool. Here are 4 steps to reduce bias on the front end: 

1. Be aware that bias exists

Acknowledging that bias exists in hiring practices sound obvious enough, but it confronts a long-held belief that managers judge all candidates fairly, even though research shows that people of color who edit their resumes by deleting references to race are twice as likely to receive a call for an interview than those who reveal their race. 

Despite what managers believe about themselves, the research doesn’t lie, Heiss says. If companies truly want to become more inclusive, she says, they have to accept this truth. 

“Just recognizing that a resume that is completely identical but carries the names Jamal or Tamika is going to get 50 percent fewer callbacks than an Eric or Jen is significant,” Heiss says. “Identical resumes with different names at the top, one traditionally white-sounding and one with a traditionally black-sounding name. Those with the white sounding name get 50 percent more callbacks. We have to become aware of the fact that this is happening.”

2. Ask standardized questions in the interview

By standardizing the process, companies can eliminate the tangential conversations that arise when managers interview like-minded candidates with similar backgrounds, Heiss says. “That’s when our bias is going to slip out.” 

In fact, Heiss recommends hiring managers take it one step further and post listings on niche job boards such as Diversity Working or sites actively recruiting from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

“There are centers that might attract a different audience than, if you’re white, that you might be looking for,” Heiss says. 

3. Make the resume review process as blind as possible

By removing all factors outside of qualifications, hiring managers could evaluate candidates based on their merits and experience while lessening triggers to their bias, Heiss says.

She cited a case study from the 1970s when orchestras in the United States, in an effort to hire women, began holding blind auditions. Hopefuls would sit behind a screen and play for the directors. Some companies went as far as asking musicians to remove their shoes before coming onto the stage, as managers could tell which performers were women from the heel clicks, Heiss says. 

“That heel click was enough to set off the panel behind the curtain to say, ‘Oh, that’s a female, she’s not going to play well,’” Heiss said. 

In the end, research shows the percent of women performing in five of the highest-ranked U.S. orchestras jumped from 6 to 21% between 1970 and 1993. 

“When they created that equal space, they started hiring the right candidates,” she says. 

4. Create a multiple-stage interview process

If looking at a person who is different elicits a biased, stress-filled response, then consider a multiple-stage interview where several team members have the chance to meet with the candidate, Heiss says. “This will give you the opportunity to meet that person and process that information.” 

If possible, be sure to include people of color in the interviewing process so that “those biases don’t align,” Heiss says. 

By pulling in colleagues of different backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities, managers will not get the benefit of hearing those perspectives about a candidate, they’ll be better able to catch themselves in their own biases, Heiss says.

“So when you hear somebody who has a different perspective talk about a candidate, you’ll be able to sit back and listen and ask yourself, ‘Did I hear that differently because of my unconscious bias?’” Heiss says. “And being willing to say ‘That might be’ doesn’t make you a bad person. It means you’re relying still on these shortcuts.”

Next: How to overcome implicit bias in your hiring process


Category: Talent Management

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About the Author: Glenn Jeffers

Glenn Jeffers is a Vistage staff writer and an award-winning reporter and editor. Previously, he served as editor of Kellogg, the alumni magazine of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He h

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