How to Prevent Unconscious Bias in Hiring

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By early 2022, Eniitan Fagbola joins Toronto tech start-up thinkdata works As a talent acquisition lead. The customer base of the data company was growing and there was a need to expand and hire more employees. Fagbola’s job was to help recruit the best candidates.

Fagbola asked leadership, hiring managers and human resources about their interview processes. “There was none,” she laughs. Some interviewers took notes, others did not. There were no best practice guidelines to follow. “It was chaotic, and it didn’t need to be,” she says. She wanted to make changes to ensure that candidates have the same interview experience across the board.

research shows that a standardized interview process actually helps reduce unconscious bias—prejudices that build up without the interviewee realizing it. Although often unconsciously, the brain engages in rapid-fire decision making, which can result in unfair favors or discrimination against candidates. By asking all candidates the same questions – which should be skills-based and clearly linked to job duties – hiring managers can make decisions based on merit rather than personal bias, such as attending the same university. You have taken Examples of effective questions might include “Describe a time when you worked independently to meet a deadline?” and “Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you deal with the situation and what did you learn? Standardizing the process is one way to give candidates the best shot at landing the job.

The leadership gave Phagbola free rein to update the recruitment process to make it more equitable and streamlined. She wanted to ensure that the makeup of the company was reflective of the community in which it operated. Drawing on her previous experience overhauling processes in campus recruitment for Deloitte UK, she went to work.

“Do you have children?” Sounds innocent enough, but basing hiring decisions on family status is illegal

A best practices guide was circulated to everyone in the company, outlining new ways to reduce unconscious bias, such as the rule that two interviewers should evaluate a candidate together rather than singly. Alone, they can form their own opinions and biases, such as affinity bias—the tendency to feel that there is a natural affinity with people like us. In pairings, it is less likely for an interviewer to preemptively dismiss a candidate in their 50s, believing they are overqualified for the role (perception bias), or to take a shine to a candidate who is in their 50s. who is from his hometown. Having two brains is better for reducing unconscious bias, as interviewers can compare notes later and focus on the candidate’s skills.

Phagbola also made it mandatory to take detailed notes. Interviewees were instructed to write down experiences or characteristics they shared with the interviewer in an effort to identify their biases. For example, Fagbola would have paid attention when she interviewed a black woman or an immigrant to Canada, like her. This made him revisit his notes later to reflect on whether the bias had come down: Did I really like this candidate, or was there a bias because they are like me? If an interviewer notices a trend in their notes, such as favoring candidates who consistently play hockey, Fagbola says additional training and brushing up on interviewing skills can help reduce the bias.

Fagbola’s best practices guide has a section called, “You can’t ask that.” Age, family status, race, religion and sexual orientation are all off limits. “Do you have children?” Sounds innocent enough, but basing hiring decisions on family status is forbidden; The Canadian Human Rights Act states that it is illegal for federal sector employers to ask candidates about their age, gender identity, sexual orientation, familial status, race, religion and mental or physical disabilities.

Standard interview questions were also overhauled. Fagbola observed that interviewers asked broad questions, such as “Tell me about yourself.” They are completely useless, especially for neurodivergent people Which may be more comfortable answering a direct question. A more direct, specific prompt, such as “What will you do if a task is not up to standard, but the deadline has passed?” Will get more relevant answers. (And a candidate is less likely to be bashful about his love for basketball or baking.)

ThinkData Works’ job posting was also updated to have more inclusive language. They encourage direct people who have been out of the workforce for an extended time period: “We know there may be gaps in your resume or ‘non-traditional employment,’ however, we know life happens. And invites you to apply.” The goal was to make the application process as welcoming as possible to people who left the workforce to raise children, new immigrants and those simply burned out during the pandemic. “People should be allowed to take breaks or time off,” says Fagbola.

They also stopped asking for the traditional cover letter. After reading thousands of these letters over the course of his career, Fagbola can’t believe they’re the most valuable part of a job application. Instead, candidates are asked specific questions in a written application related to the role they are applying for, such as “Why do you want this job?” and “what is No On your resume what do you want me to tell you?” a data engineer might be asked Something like, “Tell me about a past project and some of the technology you used to complete it.” These answers are sent to Fagbola through an applicant-tracking system.

“We tell our interview teams: Let the candidate know there’s a place for them here”

Recruitment bias costs money. More than three-quarters of senior managers admit to hiring the wrong candidate for the role, according To the recruitment agency Robert Half. It takes an average of 11 weeks to realize that person was a bad match, and five more to recoup. That adds idle time; some assessment The average cost of a poor hiring decision is at least 30 percent of an individual’s expected first year earnings.

Since implementing these changes, ThinkData Works has seen a seven percent increase in new hires from underrepresented groups. Fagbola’s hire has been a 50:50 male to female ratio, which reinforces the stereotypical tech trend of white, cisgender males. According to research published by DeloitteWomen make up only about 33 percent of the workforce at global tech firms.

For recruiters to usher in more equitable interview processes, Fagbola suggests moving away from the idea of ​​”culture fit”—the likelihood that a candidate will fit into an organization’s values ​​and collective behaviors. A focus on fit can lead managers to choose someone who is similar to or looks like them, rather than selecting candidates based on their ability. Fagbola says candidates should be assessed on the “culture add,” which is how they will truly enhance the work culture from either their skill set or an intersectional perspective that rounds out the team.

“We tell our interview teams: Let the candidate know there is room for them here,” she says. “Because some of our candidates turn into our employees – and they are our best asset.”

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