6 Tips for Avoiding Hiring Bias

When it comes to hiring top talent, we want to believe we give everyone a fair chance and choose the most qualified candidates. But what if our judgments aren’t as fair as we think they are?

We all carry unconscious biases, both positive and negative, that influence our opinions of others. When we see a piece of ourselves in someone else, we’re more likely to have a favorable impression of them; however, when we see others as different from ourselves, we may be quick to judge.

This prejudice can be particularly harmful in the hiring process and prevent diverse candidates from moving up the pipeline. If managers subconsciously hire employees similar to themselves, teams quickly become homogeneous. Luckily, there’s a way to break the cycle. Here are a few steps to help you reduce unconscious bias in your own hiring process:

1. Create Gender-Neutral Job Descriptions

Could your job descriptions be chasing away qualified candidates? Certain words and phrases can skew feminine or masculine and actually discourage applicants from applying. Tools like Textio will scan your job descriptions and flag skewed terms so you can swap them out with more gender-neutral phrases. According to Textio, words like “disciplined” and “tackle” may discourage women from applying, while phrases like “our family” and “empathetic” may see an uptick in female applicants. Being mindful of your word choice will help you attract a more diverse talent pool from the get-go.

2. Review Resumes Blind

Studies show that resumes with white-sounding names receive more callbacks for interviews than those that seem non-white, causing many candidates to “whiten” their names and backgrounds. But why should a candidate’s name dictate whether they’re a fit for an open role? Many companies are investing in resume blinding software that removes names and hides demographic info during resume reviews to help avoid unconscious bias at this stage in the hiring process.

3. Train Employees on Bias

You can’t solve a problem you aren’t aware of. We’re more biased than we think we are, but many of us don’t know how we’re biased towards others. The Harvard Business School’s Implicit Project is an eye-opening exercise that can help people recognize and measure their biases. Before you start training, have participants take a few surveys to learn what social stereotypes they may be harboring.

Then, within your training program, encourage your employees to challenge their assumptions. You can create your own internal training program, hire a consultant, or use online resources like Google’s unconscious bias training.

4. Diversify Recruitment Panels

Creating an interview panel is one of the easiest ways to introduce diverse perspectives into your hiring process. When hiring managers have the only say in hiring decisions, they may overlook a qualified candidate in favor of someone more similar to themselves. A recruitment panel lets more people share feedback on applicants and helps avoid unconscious bias when selecting the right candidate for the job.

5. Standardize Interview Questions

Standardizing interview questions enables a consistent and fair experience for all candidates. Regardless of whether an applicant applied through a job posting site or was personally referred by the CEO, they should both be asked the same questions and given the same opportunity to show their qualifications.

Lastly, urge employees to avoid asking questions that could lead to a candidate sharing their age, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation. This information doesn’t relate to a candidate’s ability to perform in the role and could bias hiring decisions. If the candidate volunteers the information, instruct your interviewers to steer the conversation elsewhere and discourage them from sharing the information with the rest of the panel, so as to not influence others’ feedback.

6. Incorporate Employee Resource Groups

One way to make diverse candidates feel more comfortable during their hiring process is to incorporate employee resource groups (ERGs) into on-site interviews. When you invite candidates on-site, explain what ERGs you have and ask if they’d like to meet with a representative from any of the groups. Having an ERG representative meet them at the front door is a great opportunity for candidates to ask questions, learn more about ERGs, and meet an employee with a common interest or similar background.

Many organizations are devoting more time and effort into hiring diverse teams, but there’s still a long way to go. According to Namely’s Workplace Diversity Report 2018, the “similar-to-me” bias has led to a tremendously high likelihood that employees report to managers of the same ethnicity and/or gender. 

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