We all have implicit biases, and those biases produce outcomes that unintentionally disadvantage marginalized groups, especially when it comes to hiring. But in-depth training and diversity and inclusion consultants cost money that small businesses may not be able to spare.
“Organizations have to set up systems where there’s no choice but to default to a disciplined process,” says Elizabeth Speck, principal at MindOpen Learning Strategies, an organization dedicated to training companies in work practices that support social change. The right recruiting strategy can help reduce unconscious bias by putting processes and criteria in place that support equity and inclusion.
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Revamping your recruiting processes to make them more equitable doesn’t have to have a big price tag — and it can provide major ROI by diversifying your talent pool. Here’s how to rework your recruiting process to mitigate bias — without going over budget.
Apply Anti-Bias Training to Recruitment Processes
Education can create awareness of our own implicit biases, but awareness alone doesn’t automatically translate to change. In fact, there’s evidence that some unconscious bias training can be ineffective at best and harmful at worst. “Training alone can actually do more damage than good,” Speck says, “if it's presented in a way that normalizes that everyone has biases without going to the next step and recognizing the need for action.”
Changing processes impacts behaviors and outcomes in a more tangible way than awareness alone. “If you have a limited budget and you can spend it on either an educational offering or a process change, advocate for the more tangible changes,” suggests Siri Chilazi, a research fellow of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School and an expert in diversity and inclusion.
Anti-bias training is most useful for opening conversations about behavioral changes. Consider pairing free web-based training with facilitated conversations regarding your recruiting processes. Web-based content has proliferated during COVID-19. These resources on understanding and managing unconscious bias from Facebook and Lean In provide a good starting point for conversations. Ask team members to identify points where bias could be affecting your recruiting process, Chilazi suggests, and encourage them to suggest tangible solutions for overcoming those biases, such as blacking out names or addresses on resumes.
Favor Objective Assessments Over Subjective Criteria
The most effective way to mitigate unconscious bias at little-to-no cost is to implement more objective selection processes. Candidates should be selected based on their specific job-related skills, not how personable they were in an interview or where they attended school. These subjective criteria play into our biases without predicting actual performance. “Every open job should have a formal job description that explains exactly what you're looking for,” Chilazi says. “Think about what the necessary skills and competencies are — not which school they went to or what degree they have.”
Taking measures to blot out names and other information that could trigger unconscious biases places more emphasis on skill sets and tangible traits. And highlighting measurable criteria, like talents and skills, streamlines the selection process, too. “Rethink how you conceptualize qualifications,” Speck suggests. “Determine the knowledge areas, skills and attributes the role demands.”
You can assess for role-specific knowledge and skills through role-playing scenarios, such as a mock sales call. Where possible, take the objective process one step further and administer these assessments anonymously, so seeing who is rising to the top doesn’t trigger any innate biases. Assessments are better predictors of performance on the job than personality, qualifications on a resume or an interview alone.
Evaluate Candidates Consistently During Interviews
Unconscious bias often creeps into the interview process, but this can be mitigated through a consistent process. Simply standardizing interview questions minimizes an interviewer’s subjectivity at no additional cost. It also streamlines your process for more consistent, measurable results so you can ensure equity in your hiring decisions.
“If you have two candidates and you ask them five different questions each, how can you compare and calibrate their answers fairly against each other?” Chilazi asks. “There are so many different unconscious biases that can come into play in informal conversation.”
Confirmation bias is particularly common at the interview stage. If we have an informal conversation with someone and we really like them, Chilazi says, we tend to shift our criteria to match a decision made based on subjective impressions, like personality. But asking a standardized set of questions designed to evaluate skills and behaviors makes it harder to justify biased hires. To ensure equitable hiring, every candidate should be assessed and evaluated on the same, role-specific scale.
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