Screening & SelectionTalent Acquisition

Goodbye to Bias

Unconscious bias plagues hiring decisions, employee growth, productivity, and retention. Here are six strategies that help eliminate it.

By Michele McDermott

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that are formed outside conscious awareness. Often, backgrounds, experiences, societal stereotypes, and cultural context can impact people’s decisions and actions without them even realizing it. Brains make incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations. This is also referred to as a “mental blind spot.”

If not understood, these biases or beliefs can turn into prejudiced thoughts, which, if not corrected, can then turn into discrimination in the workplace. Biases impact workplace decisions in several ways, including:

  • perception;
  • attitude;
  • behaviors;
  • attention;
  • listening; and
  • micro-affirmations.

A study by the Center for Talent Innovation looked at unconscious bias and its toll on companies. The research included a task force of HR officers and diversity specialists at 86 multinational organizations, as well as a national survey of 3,570 full-time, college-educated employees in white-collar jobs. The results show that companies experience less innovation and productivity and higher turnover and burnout when employees perceive biases. For example, 80 percent of respondents who perceived bias would not refer potential candidates to the company. The study also shows that employees were 64 percent less likely to perceive bias at companies with diverse leaders and 87 percent less likely when they had inclusive leaders.

HR leaders are typically responsible for overseeing a company’s hiring trends, productivity, turnover… and the list goes on. All of these areas are impacted by unconscious bias. But how can HR help managers and other leaders defeat unconscious bias without knowing the different ways it can manifest in the workplace? For example, managers may exhibit biases based on age, similarities, gender, and beauty. Or a leader may directly compare a candidate to the previous candidate instead of to the job itself.

To put it in perspective, here are a few examples of unconscious bias in action:

  • Unconscious BiasAn instrumental group had a recent influx of male hires. To help curb any potential biases, the hiring committee conducted blind auditions. Yet, in the blind auditions, males were still being favored. It was discovered that the hiring group could hear the clicking of different types of shoes. A carpet was put down to make it harder to decipher between males and females. Soon after, more women were hired. 
  • John was a hiring manager with an implicit bias regarding age. He had a pattern of hiring candidates over the age of 30. The company was looking at recent hiring trends and realized several well-qualified candidates under 30 did not move on in the hiring process. The company was missing out on bright talent and a diverse set of ideas. John, on the other hand, did not realize that age was impacting his hiring decisions.
  • Jeff manages a group of sales representatives that travel across the Midwest. Judy, a single mother of two, has been a great employee and is ready for a challenge. However, she was not considered for the role since Jeff assumed the travel would be difficult for her.

Strategies for Overcoming Biases

Education is often the best remedy for overcoming these types of situations, beginning with self-education and extending into broader spheres. By acknowledging prejudice in all its manifestations and finding effective strategies for its eradication, organizations have the power to make a difference. Here are some ways HR can help managers and leaders overcome bias:

  • Remove names, addresses, and graduation dates from resumes.
  • Use the same interview questions for all candidates.
  • Include a diverse team of executives in the interview process instead of one decision-maker.
  • Promote self-awareness with managers.
  • Hold manager trainings or workshops.
  • Have managers complete self-assessments and set goals.

By implementing these practices, HR can provide hiring managers with the necessary tools to defeat unconscious bias.

Michele McDermott is senior vice president of human resources of Assurance.

Tags: Screening & Selection, Talent Acquisition

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