You can't eliminate hiring bias, but you can disrupt its effect. And that matters to the up-and-coming generation of employees who expect an authentically diverse workplace.
Diversity is critical to success for many businesses. That's especially true if the company's product or service is intended for a diverse population. If you want to speak to the masses, you need a voice that they can relate to.
If bias is interfering with your talent acquisition process, there's something that you can do about it. And it's simpler than you might think.
Inherent Bias Doesn't Have to Dictate Hiring Decisions
No matter how hard you work against it, you have at least some unconscious biases. Don't feel too badly about it. Everyone does. It's part of being human. The family you were raised in, your community, the college you attended and your friends have created a lifetime of knowledge and experiences. And those experiences affect your decisions.
Bias isn't even necessarily bad in the strictest sense of the word, except that it impairs objectivity. For example, you might prefer hiring people who graduated from a certain college because you know the curriculum and trust that their graduates have the right skills. But that kind of favoritism blocks some qualified people from getting a fair shot.
It's really the lack of objectivity that makes biases such a problem. But that's also a clue for how to work around it. If you want to be objective about hiring decisions, all you need is to eliminate what's interfering with it.
Back to the college preference example, you might consider recruitment strategies that block college names from both the screening process and from your view. If that's what impairs your hiring strategies, eliminate the information so you can't show favoritism. The same works with most biases.
The bottom line with biases is that they're not insurmountable. The trick is relying on something besides your best judgment.
- Too many men or women in your company? Eliminate candidate names from the early-stage hiring process.
- Finding it hard to hire Millennials or Baby Boomers? Don't ask about graduation and employment dates
For whatever is holding you back from diversity in the workplace, you can probably stomp out its ability to interfere with objectivity.
Sometimes Padding the Talent Pool Serves a Good Purpose
Believe it or not, some experts recommend padding the talent pool to get fairer results. That's not as strange as it sounds on the surface.
Harvard Business Review explains that no matter who has the edge in the talent pool, it will affect the hiring outcome. If you have more men than women, the women don't stand a chance at being hired. But the same applies in reverse. Whoever is least represented in your pipeline has almost no shot at the job.
That's why false padding, of a sort, might help you defeat hiring bias. It has nothing to do with showing preferential treatment when it comes time to hire. It only deals with leveling the playing field at the pipeline level so that every qualified candidate, no matter who he or she is, has a chance.
"Managers need to know that working to get one woman or minority considered for a position might be futile because the odds are likely slim if they are the lone woman or nonwhite candidate. But if managers can change the status quo of the finalist pool by including two women, then the women have a fighting chance." - Harvard Business Review
If you're concerned about reverse sexism, ageism or racism, you shouldn't be. HBR says women and minorities already outnumber men in the workforce. And when blind hiring practices are implemented, women tend to get the job "at a higher rate than men."
Padding the talent pool helps correct a problem on the front end. It doesn't cause a new one when it comes time to make a hiring decision.
Bias Disruption in Effect
Probably one of the most famous examples of circumventing bias is the Boston Symphony Orchestra experiment of 1952. Until then, symphony orchestras were made up almost entirely of men. Claire Cain Miller writes for the New York Times that directors claimed men were the only ones qualified. But then blind hiring came into play.
In as literal a sense as could be, auditions for the Boston Symphony Orchestra were blind beginning in the early '50s.
"Musicians auditioned behind screens so the judges couldn't see what they looked like, and walked on carpeted floors so the judges couldn't determine if they were women or men - the women often wore heels," says Miller.
Blind auditions improved the rate of hire for women several times over. And many other orchestras followed suit soon after.
Google has made strides in improving diversity, as well. Their employee base in 2014 showed a heavy favoritism toward men in general, and Asian men specifically. Only about 2 percent were black, and 3 percent were Latino. Google has since committed to investing $150 million in the first year and more going forward to bias education and diversity strategies.
Google now casts "a wider net for new hires and creating more recruitment paths into Google for women and minorities," according to Jessica Guynn for USA Today. They've instituted bias education workshops, practical tips on overcoming unconscious bias and they've become more active in colleges with a diverse student body.
There's no way to eliminate unconscious bias, but there are ways to nullify its effect on the hiring process. And that begins with recruitment strategies aimed at creating a workforce that's more representative of the population.
Certain people might apply for certain jobs with more regularity. But just because there are more female nursing graduates doesn't mean female nurses accurately represent the population. To find a more balanced, diverse and accurate workforce, sometimes you really do have to think outside the box.