How to eliminate bias in hiring

Every decision we make on the road to a final selection, is a conscious choice to either be inclusive or not. We have a responsibility to eliminate bias in hiring by being intentional and deliberate about each of these micro-decisions, that leads up to the final hiring decision.

eliminate bias in hiring
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OK, here’s the real deal. Hiring is a conscious action. We are NOT sleepwalking through hiring decisions, driven by our unconscious biases.

Every decision we make on the road to a final selection, is a conscious choice to either be inclusive or not.

We have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to eliminate bias in hiring by being intentional and deliberate about each of these micro- decisions, that leads up to the final hiring decision. 

We have to tackle some common myths, before we get to these micro-decisions. 

Myth 1 – We need to lower our standards to hire diverse talent

Reality – NO! You don’t! This myth is just as ridiculous as it sounds. There is no correlation between intelligence or capability and gender / race / religion / nationality / age / sexual orientation. We hire better talent, when we broad base our search, have a wider set of candidates with different backgrounds and capabilities to choose from, and run a highly competitive selection process. In fact, when we hire from within our limited networks, that is when we lower standards! There are only 2 options here. As a leader, either you believe that talent is everywhere and it is your job to find it, or you believe that diverse talent is not the same caliber as you and your network. Pick a side.

Myth 2: Diverse talent is hard to find 

Reality – We look for diverse talent who are in equivalent roles or positions, and reach into the same small pool of talent repeatedly. We need to push ourselves and our organizations to look beyond the obvious. 

Myth 3 : Diverse talent finds it hard to fit into our culture, and leaves

Reality – This monolithic, carved-in-stone view of company culture has been debunked. The more we hire clones of ourselves, the more stagnant our culture. We need to build vibrant cultures with creative tensions, diverse points of view, so that it addresses the complexity of our world, makes our plans sustainable and our decisions well thought through.

5 clear actionable micro decisions to eliminate bias in hiring leading up to the final selection 

Create an inclusive Job Description (JD) that attracts a wider set of candidates 

  • Ensure gender neutral, race neutral language 
  • Highlight flexibility. Example ; options for remote work, limited need to travel, flexible hours, as well as a company’s performance culture that values outcome, over visibility or constant availability.
  • Review the technical capabilities and qualifications requirements for the role and make choices. Examples; How would you value real world experience versus a masters degree? Do you really need 15+ years managing teams? Do you really need 10+ years experience in the local market or are you open to change agile and adaptable candidates?
  • Review the leadership ‘qualities’ for the role – This is the most grey area, where biases creep in. Define in detail, the situational context, and the leadership outcomes that a candidate needs to have delivered (not just generic behaviors). Example; The ideal candidate has set clear expectations and inspired their team, against strong counter forces, to deliver on strategic priorities. 
  • Make the JD AI/ ML ready – The more we include commonly used keywords in our JD (as against narrow or super industry specific ones), the better the chances are, of finding a wider set of candidate matches.

Try this : List out all the qualifications, capabilities, leadership qualities and requirements in one column. In the next column, against each criteria, assess whether any one category of candidates would have a significant advantage. Fix those areas, and you are ready for the next step.

Expand your sources of talent to attract a wider candidate pool

Talent is everywhere. The question is ; do you know how to reach them, and will they work for you? In the ‘90s, the technology industry in India was booming. They could not find enough talent through engineering colleges, and there were very few female students. My company had started a program where graduate students could enroll for a well reputed masters degree, while they worked with us. It was a success, bringing in phenomenal talent including diverse talent, who would otherwise not have pursued a career in technology. 

There are so many avenues for us to reach out to diverse talent, from historically black colleges, women’s colleges, industry forums, employee referrals, recruitment specialists, diverse talent forums, symposiums and conferences, etc. 

What are you doing to expand your sources of talent? Are you challenging your recruitment partners to ensure a diverse slate of candidates? You can consciously decide to ensure a diverse slate to interview, and set clear expectations for your partners.

Be relentlessly data based, evidence based and objective in your criteria for selection 

  • Ensure a bias free interview process by focusing only on questions relevant to their work portfolio
  • Ensure a diverse interview panel with clear guidelines and pre aligned questions to ensure objectivity 
  • Ensure objective selection criteria- At the core of most selection criteria is a norm. This norm, is often based on success factors derived from previous people in the role, or in the company, who typically belong to the predominant group. Think of how we define leadership. There are so many different lens to see it from – is it charisma, is it the ability to mesmerize an audience, is it executive presence, is it the company’s leadership competencies, or is it the qualities that helped you succeed? It is none of these. Ask the candidate for examples where they have led their team to achieve the outcome that was needed, and how they went about it. It doesn’t matter if their leadership style is different from yours, or that they are not vocal or introverted, as long as they can inspire their team to achieve breakthrough outcomes.

Be data and evidence based in assessing candidates against the criteria

  • Ensure a data and evidence based process of assessment- The interviewers need to make real time notes of answers and examples shared by candidates. I find it very helpful to create a one sheet analysis that pulls all the data from the JD, CVs and interview assessments together, as a starting point. It is really eye opening to have all the data in one place, and it helps reduce bias significantly.
  • Ensure data and evidence based debrief with interview panel focused on contrary observations, or concerns.

Assess outcomes over time

In the last 12 months, how many positions have you filled, how many of those had diverse slates for interview, and how many are diverse hires out of your total number? This is NOT about a target. It is to understand if your efforts are paying off, or are there some blind spots that are yet to be addressed.

Having coached hundreds of leaders in my career, I’ve developed,  used and seen leaders leverage these tips with great results. As you continue on your journey to grow as a leader, and be more inclusive, I hope these ideas help you on your journey to eliminate bias in hiring.

Inclusion is the Power of Collective Genius, and you have the key to unlock it.

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