We All Do It. The Question is How to Address It (Unintentional Bias, Of Course)
Gal Sagy | CEO | Co-Founder
November 30, 2020
Diversity has shifted from buzz word to business imperative, as companies identity the business upside of a diverse workforce, the growing expectation by Millenials to work in inclusive organizations, and the immense, though less quantifiable, benefits of a workplace that leverages the richness of the society in which it operates. For some companies, it may be the stick as much as the carrot, with companies seeking to avoid bias-related allegations that can put a drain on company resources, hurt employee morale, and tarnish a company’s reputation in the market. Either way, increasing diversity and eliminating bias from the hiring process has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have.
If we agree, what’s the problem?
Like many things in life, achieving diversity - and avoiding bias - is easier said than done, even for organizations that are truly committed to D&I. One of the key barriers is particularly difficult to combat, because it is unconscious: unintentional bias.
To complicate matters, unintentional bias is often joined by others in the bias family: Similarity bias may create an unintentional preference for people who are like us in some key way (a fellow dog owner or a member of a similar community, for example). Confirmation bias focuses our attention on evidence that confirms our initial biases (this candidate is great! She’s a long-distance runner AND all her stories point to being super resilient, which is what you’d expect from a runner).
Awareness is a necessary but insufficient condition to successfully addressing biases. We need to take active steps to deal with biases, even, and maybe especially, when they are essentially blind spots in our fields of vision.
Here are a few suggestions based on our work with companies across industries and in multiple countries and cultures:
Focus on Soft Skills vs. Credentials: Soft skills such as creativity, persuasion and collaboration, are key to success, according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends. In fact, one of the main findings of the report is that 92% of respondents believe that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills.
But there are two main issues with soft skill assessment today: - Timing: Many companies test for soft skills after an initial screening of the CV, potentially letting factors like name, address or college (subconsciously) impact decisions, and overlooking candidates who might be a great fit for the company. The solution: Test ALL candidates’ soft skills vs. only those who make it through the initial CV screening.
- Company specificity: Most companies look for soft skills that are considered best practices (positive attitude, for example), rather than understanding which soft skills in particular predict success at THEIR company. The solution: Analyze employee performance to understand which soft skills predict success at YOUR company (do people who score higher on self confidence actually sell more?), and then look for those specific qualities in applicants.
Structured Interviews: Anyone who has interviewed a candidate knows that, whether we mean to or not, interviews can veer off in all kinds of directions, from discussing a joint alma mater to a love of football or carpentry. While it’s completely understandable, it is important to ensure that there is a consistent list of questions that each interviewer asks each candidate, so that the candidate is measured (and interviews compared) based on factors that matter to the company vs. personal preferences.
In the Covid 19 reality, remote interviewing is on the rise, making a structured approach all the more important. Many candidates are now doing interviews from their homes, and exposing far more about themselves - from aesthetics to socio-economic status. A structured approach to interviews can ensure that the personal factors revealed via zoom have far less of an impact on the outcome.
Leverage Ethical AI: When used smartly and ethically, AI can serve as a powerful antidote to biases of all kinds. AI allows you to focus your process on soft skills from the get go by testing all candidates, at scale, for soft skills. It also allows you to analyze which skills actually predict success at your company so that you can focus on those, rather than “best practices,” which themselves can be skewed, when assessing candidates. Finally, ethical AI allows you to minimize the subjectivity of interviews by creating a structured approach that gets past interviewer preferences, and those questions can get automatically updated for all interviewers, as more information about the needs of the organization or specific role become apparent.
Talking about biases, and admitting that we may have some blind spots, can feel uncomfortable. But with a combination of goodwill and smart technology, we can help eliminate bias and, as importantly, increase diversity that will bring in voices, perspectives, and skill sets that will enrich our teams and companies.
Stay posted on Empirical’s research and insights from the hiring trenches. Or reach out to us if you have any comments, questions, or you want to learn more.
Forget about the ideal candidate. Empirical helps you identify candidates that will excel at YOUR company. Recruiters and Hiring Managers across industries in 60 countries leverage the Empirical platform - ethical AI powered by deep behavioral expertise - to significantly impact their companies’ bottom line. With Empirical you reduce time-to-hire, eliminate bias, and ensure new hires stay and flourish. (By the way, we think you should be getting the credit for your contribution to the bottom line!). www.empiricalhire.com
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