How biases manifest in the hiring process and how we can address them in order to develop better teams.
There’s a reason why more than half the CEO’s in America are over 6 feet, despite the fact that 6-footers only make up 15% of the population.
It doesn’t mean tall people are more capable, or make better leaders. What it does mean, is that we tend to have certain beliefs and biases about what a CEO, or powerful person should look like.
And these beliefs translate into everyday actions that benefit some and suppress others. As people, we are influenced by our thoughts. Without proper intervention, our thoughts boil beneath the surface, creep into, and influence our behaviors and decision making.
And they are not immune from transcending into every niche of common hiring practices. The industry is ripe with thoughts like, “he reminds me of myself” “they just look like a leader” or “I don’t think someone could do this job with two kids at home”. And these thoughts impact who we put forward for jobs.
Our biases can even lead us to hire a candidate we feel in our gut is the ‘right choice’ for reasons unrelated to the job itself, and rather to a sense of familiarity, or preconceived idea we tell ourselves about who is capable and why.
So what is bias?
P4G’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Facilitator, Jonah Ssenyange describes bias as ‘a conscious or implicit’ prejudice against an individual or group based on their identity, which results in an unfair or inaccurate favoritism of or against a person or idea, usually in a way that is close-minded.
They show up as an instinctual reaction or a gut feeling. Gone unchecked, they can even influence how much we actively listen to what certain people say. These instant beliefs make very little room for acceptance of others who are not like us. (If you want to dive deeper on this, read our blog on hiring for cultural contribution versus fit).
Bias is linked to the propagation of racism, discrimination, and prejudice in a plethora of studies, like this one from 2021. It’s vital that we grasp how bias is intrinsically tied to the maintenance of labourforce status quo – where historically excluded groups remain excluded by the cultures and systems who hold majority power.
There are many ways we can improve our approach to hiring and ensure our teams are using better, more informed and inclusive strategies. Below are Jonah’s suggestions on what hiring teams can do to help avoid bias in their hiring process.
Jonah’s Tips for Addressing Bias in Hiring
- Look inward and embody self-awareness. Author, and Anti-Racist activist, Imbram X Kendi says, “when we feel something is right or wrong in our gut, we are evading the deeper, perhaps hidden ideas that inform our feelings. But in those hidden places, we find what we really think if we have the courage to face our own naked truths.” Be honest with yourself about identifying what possible biases may be influencing your thought pattern. Get objective with your thoughts, be curious and question why you are thinking about something in a certain way – so that you can aim to rectify it. You can compliment your bias awareness journey with professional bias training. We offer sessions at P4G and can recommend others who provide thoughtful training in this space for you and your teams. But know, that training should be one piece within a larger accountability structure that you are a part of. Alone, this form of training is not likely to have a significant impact on your long-term behaviour changes without a multi-faceted umbrella strategy for mitigating the impact of bias in your organization.
- Recognize what your mind tells you isn’t always accurate. Remain open to change and viewpoints that differ from your own. This can feel uncomfortable at first as you decenter whiteness, heterosexuality and other status quo identities, but it is a vital step to weave into the unlearning process.
- Don’t lean on the notion that biases are ‘unconscious’ or ‘uncontrollable’ as an excuse to remain neutral. Pamela Fuller encourages us to view our prejudices as ‘interrupting’ or ‘disrupting’ biases that require an action from us to make better decisions. This hones the importance of taking accountability and doing something about our bias-driven actions so that their harmful impacts are minimized. Read more about Pamela’s work.
- Ensure your hiring process is built safely with members of historically excluded groups. We have witnessed the unintentional oversight where hiring managers expect racialized employees to influence and sometimes even ‘fix’ their company’s inclusive hiring process. This is a psychologically challenging position to put anyone in; no one person can speak for all voices. (Not to mention the fear of micro-punitive measures or losing career safety for challenging current hiring barriers that managers may not be ready to address). Are you collaborating from the start from a place of together-ness? Are impartial contributions and inputs coming from voices internal and external to your organizational hierarchy? (aka: community members, target audiences or clients). When doing this, are you approaching with a sense of curiosity, seeking to understand and commit to long-term behavioral change?
- Take time making a hiring decision. People frequently choose the quick option to save money and time, but choosing the right person for the job necessitates avoiding instant judgments or attitudes. Be responsive and thoughtful to prevent falling into the trap of reactive gut decision making.
- Avoid comparing candidates to one another, and falling into a confirmation bias mindset. Our selective observations can result in halo or horn effects where we tie one ‘good’ or ‘bad’ perceived attribute of a candidate to everything they do. Before putting forward your candidates, ask yourself are you able to justify your candidate preference to your hiring committee with sound evidence?
- Evidence shows skills-based assessment tools have increased the success rate of hiring strong contributors. These assessments give organizations a consistent description of what on-the-job potential looks like, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. For more resources or ideas on how to build or select an assessment tool, check out Forbe’s recommendations.
Finally, keep in mind, the discovery of our interrupting biases cannot end at acknowledgement. To influence systems and societal change, it is up to us to translate our awareness into meaningful action that entire teams can get behind. While this may require a shift in how we work, it can result in a more objective, inclusive and equitable hiring process and ultimately reflect in the team you are building.
We hope you continue to follow along our P4G blog journey, as we share more streams of thought from P4G contributors like Jonah Ssenyange.