Diversity in Recruiting: Eliminating Bias

Time to Read: 4.2 minutes

Updated: February 8, 2023

In part 1 of this blog series, I shared how a clearly defined approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I) gives companies a competitive advantage. There are many ways you can and should promote D&I in your organization, and the recruiting function is ideally positioned to play an important role in that effort. One of the more challenging diversity issues in recruitment is bias.

Explicit bias is easy to identify, but we all have implicit or unconscious biases that we’re not aware of. Identifying and eliminating bias can be challenging, and here are the key points to consider.

Understanding Our Own Biases

No one likes to admit they have biases, and many will deny them outright. However, as the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, puts it, “Implicit biases are pervasive. Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.” The first step in minimizing biases, then, is to acknowledge that you have them.

A Look in the Mirror

The Implicit Association Test, available from Harvard University’s Project Implicit, is helpful in getting started. Project Implicit collaborated with MTV to create some variations on the IAT, and you can take them here.

The results may be uncomfortable to learn, but a little discomfort is an important step in making change. Having implicit biases doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human. Sources for implicit biases include our upbringing, of course, but also culture and media.

Expand Exposure – Gradually

Now that you know your biases, you can take steps to overcome them. One useful strategy is perspective-taking or considering experiences from the point of view of those against whom you have a bias. You can do so by reading or viewing videos about that group. The next step would be to increase your direct interactions with members of that group.

Another suggestion is to slow down. Implicit bias operates almost instantaneously in our brains, so before you interact with members of that group, take a moment to reflect. You might think of positive role models from that group.

Training Works

Studies show that training on the topic of implicit bias can help people to overcome it. Of particular interest to recruiting is a study demonstrating the training helped men in STEM professions reduce their unconscious bias toward women. Training courses are available from companies like Traliant and Everfli, for both individuals and organizations.

Minimizing Bias in Searching, Interviewing, and Selecting

Implicit bias also can be embedded in processes. In addition to new ways of thinking, you need new ways of recruiting. For years recruitment has started from a viewpoint of narrowing the candidate pool. Ultimately you need to narrow the search down, but that’s the end game.

Widen Your Searches

Consider starting by casting a wide net. Loosen up the requirements. For example, is a bachelor’s degree absolutely necessary to be a software developer? Many high schools and summer camps teach software programming and game design, and people can develop strong skills simply by pursuing it as a hobby. A famous example is Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, who attended Harvard but never completed his degree.

Use Inclusive Language

In advertising open positions, use inclusive language. English is rife with embedded male bias, and terms such as “road warrior,” “ninja,” and “assertive” can play against the implicit biases of female candidates. Textio is a well-known solution for eliminating exclusive language, and they have competitors like tapRecruit and Grammarly.

Incorporate Diversity into the Process

There are several things you can do at different stages to make diversity a positive part of your process. For example, you can block out identifying information on résumés to ensure that candidates are chosen based on qualifications only. You should ensure that all interviewers use the same questions — and only those questions — for every candidate. It not only ensures you are comparing apples to apples but also helps prevent bias from creeping in. In addition, make sure your interview panels are diverse. This will help put candidates from a variety of backgrounds at ease and better enable them to picture themselves as part of your organization.

Incremental Change

Eliminating bias and achieving diversity will take time. You should plan on incremental change. At the same time, you need to know where you’re headed, so it’s important to establish diversity goals for your organization. Writing for the American Bar Association, Artika R. Tyner says that a diversity committee isn’t enough. “Today’s diversity and inclusion work require organizational mission alignment, clear vision integration, strategic planning, commitment, accountability, and resource allocation that involves the entire team.”

Another great strategy is to engage a recruiting firm that is committed to diversity hiring. They can help you get your message in front of a diverse audience and should have recruiters trained in diversity sourcing. Look for an organization that is, diverse. At Pierpoint, we are proud to have a diverse executive leadership team as well as an overall staff that is 40% women and minorities.

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Kelly Graham

Kelly Graham is a marketing professional with 20 years of experience in healthcare, recruitment and IT marketing helping businesses create their brand presence and achieve their marketing and business goals.

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