COVID-19 Employer Resource Center


By: Claudia Lopez on September 3rd, 2020

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Why Your Hiring Practices Could Be Part of the Diversity Problem

Diversity & Inclusion | Talent Acquisition

Outdated hiring practices are failing us.

Companies are frustrated, realizing that differential treatment by race and other factors are still present in their current hiring practices. Even when hiring managers are given training, resources, and have the best of intentions, research shows that familiar old ways of hiring often lead to hiring candidates who are demographically similar. More and more, I’m seeing that employers are looking for better hiring strategies that can help them evaluate candidates fairly, reduce bias through the hiring process, and build more diverse and inclusive teams.

All of us want to feel confident knowing that hiring managers across our job force are selecting candidates using valid criteria that focuses on evaluating facts about the candidate’s background instead of opinions or a “gut feel”. Unfortunately, most common and familiar hiring practices today are perfectly designed to perpetuate bias during the hiring process.

Reducing bias during the hiring process is not only difficult, it requires us to exercise conscious, effortful, and balanced thinking through the entire hiring process. Fortunately, better approaches to hiring practices are on the rise. You can improve hiring accuracy and reduce bias during the hiring process by implementing small changes to your current hiring practices today. Here are some tips that I’ve been giving my recruiting clients below.

7 Steps To Help Eliminate Bias In the Hiring Process 

Consider focusing on these 7 steps of the hiring process to help eliminate bias:

  1. Diversity Statement:
    • Make sure that your company website and employer branding materials emphasize your diversity statement, specifically highlighting steps and actions taken to build and promote diversity and inclusion across your organization.
    • Don’t rely just on employee referrals. When you hire who you know, it can lead to hiring more people similar to your current employee population demographics.
  1. Job Advertisement:
    • Start by sharing a brief overview of why the job is important and how it makes a difference to the company (or community) as a whole. Pay close attention to words that can signal to candidates that they aren’t a good fit. Avoid superlatives, and gender specific pronouns, and masculine/feminine associate language.
    • Prioritize key skills- what is required vs. what is nice to have. Build in as much flexibility as possible.
    • Avoid a long list of qualifications or responsibilities. Instead, focus on 5-7 bullet points that describe the key functions of the job.
  1. Resume Selection:
    • Chose an experienced team member to screen resumes. Someone who considers all the different paths that a candidate can take, a person that thinks broadly, and is interested in screening people into your process not out.
    • Avoid creating a preference for pedigree, do not take mental shortcuts when you read a resume by looking for prestigious educational institutions or reputable previous employees. This provides an unfair advantage to some candidates while excluding other highly qualified individuals from the process. Remember to be more open minded, don’t assume all candidates were offered equal opportunities for advancement potential in previous organizations.
    • Avoid affinity bias or having favorable opinions of anyone who reminds us of ourselves. Be aware that we tend to be drawn to candidates who made similar choices in their educational backgrounds, previous employers, etc.
  1. Request a Writing Prompt
    • Instead of requesting a traditional cover letter, consider asking candidates to submit a writing prompt. These questions will help hiring managers equally assess competencies before judging a candidate’s pedigree, career trajectory, or appearance. Additionally, it gives candidates the opportunity to think how their experience fits with your business demands.
  1. Inclusive Interview Process
    • Avoid abstract attributes. Interviewers and hiring managers conducting interviews all have different concepts of the meaning of abstract attributes. According to a research study by Harvard Business, humans are unreliable radars of other humans. The study refers to the systematic pattern of error as the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect: “My rating of you is not driven by who you are, but instead by my own definition of quality. On average 61% of my rating of you is a reflection of me”.
    • Consider a Structure Interview Approach based on the top key competencies of the job and evaluate candidates individually of each other. Avoid asking questions about attributes and instead focus on assessing someone’s competencies and their ability to do work.
      • Attributes describe personal characteristics.
      • Competencies or job knowledge tends to focus on a specific functional area. For example, someone’s ability to develop a marketing campaign or a revenue analysis report. Competencies can be thought and tested and are easier to evaluate by interviewers.
  1. Work Sample Testing
    • Consider giving the candidate a "homework" assignment prior to the second interview. For example, discuss with candidates one to two real world challenges and have them come up with a solution. Keep it simple: focus on content not style, and have candidates offer a solution to a real business issue.
  1. Debriefing with your team
    • Keep the focus on facts and not opinions, give interviewers written questions to reflect on, and ask them to rate the candidate’s response by using a rating skill from 1-5.
    • Consider challenging the interview team by asking questions like:
      • What are the candidate’s strengths?
      • What assistance will they need to be successful?

Adopting more evidence-based hiring processes that focus on eliminating bias and improving hiring accuracy should be on top of every employers list. Organizations must change their hiring practices to better support hiring managers, without that support a tumbling series of unintentional cognitive bias can easily cascade into systemic bias. Small mistakes in the hiring process have an enormous effect in who we decide to hire. You shouldn’t want to hire people to fit in, instead focus on hiring people that move your organization forward and add something new to the team.