• Combating bias in the hiring process [video and slides]

    June 14, 2017 by

     

    Last week, College Recruiter co-organized an in-person and live stream event, “Eye Opening Tactics for Better Diversity Recruiting,” alongside WCN and Stinson Leonard Street. Presenters spoke about four topics: why and how diversity matters, combating bias, big data, and non-discrimination employment law. This blog post shares what Ann Jenrette-Thomas,  Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer of Stinson Leonard, presented in part 2: combating bias in the hiring process.

    Scroll down to watch the presentation and download Ann’s slide deck.

    Implicit bias: slow brain vs fast brain

    Implicit bias is the underlying thing that ends up creating problems in the hiring process. Another term for this is unconscious bias. Think of it as shortcuts in your brain. We use mental processes to quickly categorize information so that our brains can function optimally.

    We receive over a million pieces of information per second. This is information we gather from all of our senses. Our brains are detecting so much, but in order to function well, we can’t focus on a million pieces of information. The prefrontal cortex in the front of the brain is the slow brain. And it’s the slow brain that actually is necessary for critical thinking.

    If you repeat a slow-brain activity enough, it gets buried into the reptilian brain, otherwise known as the fast brain or the unconscious brain. Because these processes happen so rapidly, your conscious mind can’t even detect when something unconscious is happening. Take breathing—unless you make an effort to focus on it, you are not thinking about breathing. Another example if how we all learn to drive. When you first started to drive, you focused on putting your hands at ten and two o’clock. As experienced drivers, we’ve all had the experience of getting in the car, somehow arriving home and not even remembering the trip. When you learn to drive, you use your slow brain. When you’ve gotten to the point where it’s automatic, that’s your fast brain.

    This has everything to do with hiring. Some of the things that are embedded in the unconscious part—the fast brain—are cultural norms. Different cultures place value on different styles, of for example, leadership. When Americans think of leadership, we often think of someone who is decisive and confident. Herein lies a challenge for many international employees of multinational corporations that are headquartered in the U.S. In order to advance in the company, many international employees do a stint in the U.S. so that they can have the right qualifications and move up the corporate ladder.

    In Asia, they call that stint the “killing field”. Because in many Asian cultures, a valued leader is someone who is collaborative and who builds consensus, often someone with a much quieter leadership style and different type of confidence. This looks vastly different than an American version of “leadership”. So these particular employees are in a double bind. They have to come here in order to advance their careers. But once they come here, their leadership style prevents them from climbing the corporate ladder.

    There is more to how the unconscious mind affects hiring. We process everything from body language to eye contact, in order to assess whether someone is a good hire.

    Various types of bias in the hiring process

    • Affinity bias means we tend to gravitate toward people who we perceive as similar to ourselves.
    • Confirmation bias is when you magnify things that confirm what you already thinking. Or, you minimize things that contradict what you already think.
    • Attribution bias is when you give a more favorable assessment to somebody that is in your ‘in-group’. Now, what defines an in-group could be a variety of things, and that’s where individuality comes into play.
    • Availability bias describes how we prefer the quick and easy. When we mine for information, we grab what is readily available. Quick: imagine a fire fighter. It’s unlikely you had the image of a woman in your head. The readily available image of a firefighter is a man.
    • Groupthink is very similar to affinity bias. The notion of groupthink is where people are not willing to go against the brain of the homogeneous group.

    Combating bias starts with you

    It’s time to get to get to action and it all starts with you. If you don’t know your own biases or the fact that we are prone to them, then you’re not going to be able to help the system at all. And you have to also educate the people around you in the hiring process. Here are some suggestions for moving forward:

    1. Take the Implicit Association Test. There’s a variety of tests out there: go to projectimplicit.org. It’s free. This just gives you a baseline of where you are on these issues.
    1. Take some time to become socially confident. Learn about any particular cultures with which you are working, for example what leadership looks like.
    1. Assess your hiring process with the assumption that implicit bias is there. Why? Because statistically speaking, it’s there. It could be present where you post your jobs, how the descriptions are actually written, who and how the resumes are reviewed, how the interviews are conducted and who conducts the interviews.
    1. Review your job descriptions for bias. There are certain words and phrases in a job description that could lead to fewer diverse applicants because they will self-select out. For example, women are less likely to apply for a job where there are masculine coded language, like “aggressive” or “adventurous.” Interestingly, men are negligibly affected when it they read feminine coded language, like “collaborative”. When diverse candidates read job descriptions that are more neutral, they are less likely to scrub out any identifying information, for example clubs and organizations that might be specific to an ethnicity. You want to make sure that your job descriptions only include information that is absolutely necessary to perform the job well.
    1. Get used to operating outside your comfort zone. This is ultimately a relationship game. Recruit from a broader circle, go to different places. Ensure that you are also posting on sites that cater to a diverse community. Make sure you understand what other comparable programs are out there beside your core recruiting schools.
    1. Evaluate every resume the exact same way. There are programs out there that can strip demographic information from resume, so that’s one way to try to make things anonymous. It’s also important to develop a standard evaluation form with detailed metrics so that everybody is evaluated on the same criteria.
    1. Identify what you want before the interview begins. If you are clear about the skills, qualities, credentials, etc. that best suit the position, then you can craft questions that speak to those specific skills, credentials, etc. You can develop a checklist of these factors and give them to the interviewers beforehand so that everybody is clear. Prepare the interviewers. Make sure they are aware of the potential for bias. Use a diverse panel of interviewers.

    Finally, don’t get overwhelmed by the challenge of combating bias. Your unconscious biases are going to pop up. It takes effort and time to keep trying to change these things. Be patient, keep at it, and know that you’ll get there.

     

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    Download the slides from this presentation here.

    Watch the presentation of this content by Ann Jenrette-Thomas at Stinson Leonard Street from “Eye-Opening Tactics for Better Diversity Recruiting”:

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