Does hiring a diverse team go beyond sourcing job applicants from diverse backgrounds? After you list a job and the resumes start flowing in, it’s alright to sit back and let the best candidate win, right? Not exactly. There are still countless ways that unconscious biases can arise and result in discrimination during the entire hiring process, meaning that active effort is still needed at all steps of the process to counteract them.
Last week, SGO facilitator Cristina Hancock presented a webinar on this very topic. She cited research that proves the existence of such biases: a recent study on employer bias in reviewing resumes found that job candidates whose resumes suggest that they may be white are twice as likely to receive an interview as candidates whose resumes suggest that they are of color. This bias remained just as strong even if the candidates had equal qualifications and even if an employer explicitly claimed to value diversity. Cristina explained that in order to build a diverse, inclusive workforce, employers must carefully consider not only how they source candidates, but also how they review resumes and conduct interviews.
Cristina first focused on what can be done to identify and mitigate biases while reviewing resumes. Job applications can include countless subtle cues about a candidate’s race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, and more– think about all that can be inferred from a name, a headshot, a college or graduation year, the kind of scholarships or awards one has received, or even a list of hobbies. As is always the case, understanding where and how our biases creep in and affect our judgement is the first step toward fostering diversity and inclusion. With that understanding in mind, a very successful strategy to adopt is to redact applications to remove any identifying details that may create an opportunity for biases to arise. Take advantage of the many tech tools to mitigate bias at your disposal to help with this!
While redacted applications can help curb some biases, there are still many common practices during interview processes that can pave the way for more. Cristina suggested that employers notice if candidates are being evaluated on whether or not they “fit” into the existing office culture. While of course we’re always drawn to people with like minds and shared experiences, letting such similarities guide our judgement can perpetuate any existing problems of homogeneity or exclusion. Instead, we can reframe the conversation to be more inclusive by evaluating a candidate’s ability to add to the existing culture, or by questioning whether or not their values, rather than their experiences, align with those of your existing team.
Similarly, the common practice of evaluating a candidate’s likability or friendliness does not relate to their skill or ability to do a job, and avoiding it can help level the playing field for certain demographic groups who are held to different social standards than others. To avoid hiring pitfalls like these, Cristina encourages creating a standardized list of questions and evaluation criteria to guide both resume reviews and interviews.
Cristina also noted several other questions that employers should ask themselves in order to make interviews as inclusive as possible. For example, before you step into an interview, take into consideration:
- Who is on your interview panel? A diverse panel (which includes diversity of thought and job experience) makes for a meaningful, inclusive conversation that considers multiple perspectives. It can also be affirming and encouraging for an interviewee to see someone with an identity that they share in a position of authority at your company.
- Are you in an accessible space? Can the room accommodate candidates with a mobility disability? Can everyone be easily heard? If you’re using written materials, are they clear and easy to read?
- What does the space actually look like? Is it welcoming? If the room you’re in has a name, what message about your company might that name send?
- Have you assumed what gender pronouns someone uses based on their name or physical appearance? Have you established that it is safe for a candidate to share their pronouns with you, perhaps by sharing yours first?
- Are you prepared to accommodate a language barrier, time difference, or variation in cultural norms that may exist between you and your interviewee? For example, while strong eye contact and a firm handshake are considered the norm for many Americans, plenty of folks may avoid one or both for cultural, religious, or psychological/medical reasons. Remember that no one norm is better than another, and that a candidate’s compliance with your own cultural norms isn’t necessarily relevant to their ability to succeed in the position.
- Have you made assumptions about a candidate based on their appearance, clothes, or speech habits? Is there evidence to back up the conclusions you have drawn, and if so, are they relevant to your evaluation of their candidacy? Before disqualifying someone for “being unprofessional,” take a moment to learn about where the standards of professionalism come from and the problematic notions they can perpetuate.
While there may be circumstances when it’s necessary to ask a somewhat-personal question in an interview, make sure you know the boundaries of what’s appropriate.
These are just a few ideas of places to begin when taking a closer look at how to make your interview practices more inclusive. This kind of intentional self-reflection is necessary if you want to achieve diversity and equity within your workplace, even if you are hiring or promoting from within.
Cristina recommends that you create a checklist of good practices that you refer to before interviewing or reviewing resumes. Writing and sharing this list with your team sets you up for even better success. To get a sense of how you’re doing, you can perform regular “discrimination checks” by evaluating the demographics of your applicant pool with the demographics of who continues on to subsequent rounds, which can help you pinpoint and correct sources of bias. As always, putting in the effort and taking intentional steps to learn about and change problematic behaviors are the most effective ways that you can strive for equity at work.
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