Unconscious Bias is a hot topic in the D&I world these days. It’s not surprising then, that the majority of presentations and workshops I have done in the past year have been (at least in part) about unconscious bias.
Educating people about what it is and how it works is important and valuable.
We need to become aware of this phenomenon in order to catch it. Once we catch it, we can begin to interrupt it. Interrupting bias means knowing it exists, understanding how it works, and then mitigating it.
Knowing and understanding your bias is a personal exercise.
Putting it on the table when you are part of a recruitment, hiring or promotion team is where things get interesting. And of course, this requires a level of safety and belonging among your team and a culture of learning in your organization.
Here is another (and less confronting) way to mitigate bias in hiring, according to a study done in 2016: Increase the diversity of candidates in your finalist pool.
Stephanie K. Johnson, David R. Hekman and Elsa T. Chan conducted a study that showed that when there was more than one female or racially diverse candidate in a hiring pool, their odds of being hired increased. They attribute this to changing the status quo in the pool.
How do the researchers explain this?
The impact of difference
One suggestion is that if there is only one woman or one racialized candidate, it highlights how different they are from the norm (remember, the norm or status quo for leadership is still white men).
It’s not surprising to consider that difference shows up more when that person is solo. Add a few others, and that difference feels less different.
The researchers go on to say that deviating from the norm can be risky for decision makers and that for the minority candidates, having their difference made salient can also lead to inferences of incompetence. Yes, that’s true across sectors.
You can read more about the studies and the researchers’ summary here.
Still needing to address bias…
Maybe you’re now thinking “how will I make sure that we have more than one female or racial minority finalist in the pool?”. Well…that might speak to your bias. What is this fear suggesting? It’s suggesting that you don’t believe there are enough female or racialized candidates that will apply and be qualified enough to make it into the finalist pool.
That’s an opportunity for you to do some introspection, reading, awareness raising and unlearning.
In the meantime, if you put some other bias-mitigating strategies in place (taking names and addresses off resumes before the screeners get them, for example) that will also help.