7 ways to eliminate bias from your hiring process

At a time when colleges are under fierce pressure from students to diversify their faculty and staff members, many higher education leaders are discussing ways to banish bias from campus.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Rebecca Knight cites research showing that bias can undermine initiatives related to diversity, promotion, and retention. Knight shares practical recommendations from researchers about how to reduce bias in your hiring process. 

1. Get the word out

Ensure everyone in your organization knows what bias is and how to spot it in others—and in themselves. An awareness campaign can help people see that they are susceptible to allowing bias to shape their decisions, according to Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard University's business school.

2. Consider your job postings

Certain words are heavily associated with one gender or the other. Knight cites a study that found words like "competitive" or "determined" could discourage women from applying to a job, whereas "collaborative" and "cooperative" draw applications from more women than men.  

Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, suggests using software tools that alert you to stereotypically gendered words and then either replacing those words or complementing them with language associated with the opposite gender.

3. Blind your resume reviews

A widely known 2003 study found that employers were 50% less likely to follow up on resumes from fictional applicants with "very African-American sounding names" than they were to follow up on resumes from fictional applicants with "very white-sounding names." Referencing this study, Bohnet urges leaders to find a way to remove demographic characteristics from resumes during the initial review so that hiring managers focus only on each candidate's qualifications. Bohnet says software programs can also help with this.

Everyone's a little bit biased, sometimes

4. Have candidates try some of the work

Both Bohnet and Gino recommend incorporating a skill test or work sample test, in which a candidate performs a task similar to what they'd be doing on the job, into your interview process. This encourages interviewers to compare candidates based on their expected work performance, instead of a subjective judgement like personality, says Gino.

5. Ask everyone the same questions

Knight cites research showing that structured interviews, where interviewers ask every candidate the exact same questions, are the most reliable form of interview. Gino and Bohnet say that structured interviews can help reduce bias and encourage interviewers to focus on the most important factors. Bohnet recommends using a standardized rubric where interviewers can grade each candidate's response along a scale.

6. Quantify likeability

Research has shown that interviewers are biased toward candidates whom they like more, says Gino. Although it's natural to want to like someone, Bohnet recommends asking yourself: "Does it matter whether you like the person you hire?" If it does matter to you, she recommends giving each candidate a score for likeability, just as you would other aspects of the candidate's interview performance.

7. Set goals

Having a diverse workforce isn't just a talking point, it actually helps the bottom line, says Gino. She encourages leaders to track their progress toward diversity goals after every new hire. However, be careful about how you frame the goals when announcing them to your team—you don't want talented members of your organization to feel like that's the main reason they were hired.

(Knight, Harvard Business Review, 6/12; Ruiz, Chicago Tribune, 5/4/16)

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