by Sharon Florentine

5 ways to reduce bias in your hiring practices

Nov 01, 2016
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

Unconscious bias impacts IT hiring in a major way, but there's a lot you can do to stop bias before it becomes a barrier to diversity and inclusion. Here are five bias-busting strategies you should use.

bias against women
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Unconscious and implicit biases are a major barrier to diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace, and they can have far-reaching implications on the success of individual employees and the company as a whole. The key, says Katherin Nukk-Freeman and Suzanne Cerra, employment law attorneys and co-founders of SHIFT HR Compliance Training, is not to say, “are we unconsciously biased?” but rather, “What can we do about our implicit biases?”

Nukk-Freeman and Cerra offer five bias-busting strategies HR teams can implement in their organizations to create a more diverse and inclusive culture.

1. Blind resume screening

Studies show that by removing names and addresses from candidates’ resumes, HR professionals and hiring managers can eliminate unconscious biases that may pop up around gender, race, nationality and/or socio-economic status, Nukk-Freeman and Cerra say. Large companies like Google are starting to use this tactic, and it’s the same idea behind successful platforms like HackerRank and CodeFights, which use “blind” coding challenges to screen for technical competencies.

2. Use focus groups

Focus groups can be a great way to identify unconscious bias in your workplace, Nukk-Freeman and Cerra agree. “You should select a broad cross-section of employees to ensure all views are represented. Another benefit of focus groups is that they allow for open discussion within a group to raise awareness and identify solutions for unconscious bias without singling out particular individuals,” they say. You want to make sure that these discussions — and the solutions — are woven into the fabric of your corporate culture.

Harvard University’s Project Implicit has a number of Implicit Association Tests (IATs) that measure a person’s implicit associations, and whether they think they are “good” or “bad” with specific terms, concepts or constructs, available that cover everything from careers to race to weight to presidential popularity. So, for example, it tests whether or not test takers implicitly believe certain things are “good” or “bad” and then can measure their bias toward certain things.

[ Related story: How blind skills challenges can close the skills gap ]

3. Include unconscious bias training in your anti-harassment and discrimination training

Your organization most likely includes anti-harassment and discrimination training, but these programs focus on more overt, blatant forms of discrimination. “Unconscious bias awareness training will help your employees uncover their personal and cultural beliefs, which are the root causes of most harassment and discrimination complaints,” Cerra and Nukk-Freeman say.

4. Use metrics to identify potential bias in hiring and retention

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. By measuring the percentages of diverse candidates who’ve applied, been offered jobs, accepted and have been successful after, say, six months, you will be able to identify the strengths and weakness within your organization, and more easily pinpoint where you need to improve, say Cerra and Nukk-Freeman.

“What we’ve found from our data is that, for example, gendered language in your job post can predict who’s eventually hired for that role. If you want more women in your organization, for example, you need to reach more women with your job posts. Then, more women will apply and the chances of hiring a woman for a role increase,” says Kieran Snyder, CEO and co-founder of Textio, a machine learning platform for writing.

[ Related story: Job seekers: Celebrate who you are ]

5. Use stereotype-busting images in your company’s internal and external materials

Make sure your company’s website, newsletters, marketing materials, ad campaigns and other forms of text-based communications are reflective of the diverse workforce you have or are trying to achieve, recommend Nukk-Freeman and Cerra.

“This really has to be a company-wide effort, from job descriptions to emails to marketing and sales collateral. Everything you distribute has to be representative of your commitment to diversity, from text to images to the use of language,” says Textio’s Snyder.

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