Unconscious bias is a fact of human existence. That doesn’t mean we should accept it, far from it. In all areas of life, we should work to recognize and combat it.
Unconscious bias in hiring means overlooking a candidate because of something like race or age. It means elevating or dismissing someone because of something irrelevant to job performance. It makes hiring a diverse workforce harder, which hurts innovation and profitability since studies show a diverse workforce is a more profitable workforce. Simply put, in the hiring process, bias means that companies lose out on great workers and suffer for it. It’s so important then for companies to recognize where in the process it occurs and take steps to avoid it.
Here are four things that you can do to help control for unconscious bias in the hiring process.
- Write the job description carefully – Word choice can have an impact on who applies. Certain words can discourage men or women from applying to the position. Research showed that certain words like competitive and dominate are perceived as more masculine, while collaborative and cooperative are more feminine. Both men and women may shy away from applying to jobs where the description is overtly one gender or another. You may be alienating potential applicants who perceive a workplace where they won’t feel comfortable. Make sure your job description uses neutral words whenever possible or contains an equal number of gendered words to counter this. The gender imbalance in IT makes this even more critical for our industry.
- Review blind resumes – a blind resume is one that has had key identifying information removed to prevent assumptions or bias based on race, gender, and age. Studies have shown that ethnic names get fewer calls and interviews. Even information like the college the candidate graduated from can skew results because of bias; candidates from MIT or Cal Tech may be perceived as better. The problem is real and the solution relatively simple. Stripping out demographic information leaves only specific qualifications and skills to review and compare, creating a more level playing field. There are ATS and other software programs that can do this automatically.
- Use standardized interview questions – Unstructured interviews are more likely to be affected by bias. Having a set list of questions that all candidates are asked helps ensure they are being evaluated on the same criteria; how well they answer the same question. Even asking the questions in a set order has been shown to help.
- Evaluate skills in a more quantitative way – Test skills and experience using less opinion-based methods such as online skills testing. You can determine an applicant’s abilities from basic to expert in areas from programming to web development to network security. Virtual reality and other sophisticated programs allow companies to create very specific and realistic recreations of job situations that test problem solving and management skills. When you evaluate a candidate the more information that you have from bias free sources, the better and more accurate a decision you’ll make.
Remember that we’re talking about unconscious bias. We can’t really help it, which is why it’s so important to address it in other ways. We can each help by recognizing the issue exists and being willing to embrace change and counter our tendency to do this wherever we can. Many of the fixes outlined above are relatively simple to employ and often have other benefits as well.
Great IT professionals are hard to find these days. No business can afford to miss out on potential candidates or a great hire because of unconscious bias. Everyone in the industry is aware of the discrepancy between the projection for future IT needs and the projected pool of qualified professionals. It further underscores the importance of addressing anything that makes hiring harder and hinders finding the best and brightest. Implement procedures and strategies to fight unconscious bias and you’ll see better hiring results!