5 steps to de-bias the hiring process

Hedvig Öster 09 Sep 2021, 13:26

Regardless of what our occupation is, chances are we got there through some sort of recruitment process, formal or informal, that ended in a hiring decision. This makes the recruitment process one of the most common and relatable processes we’ll face throughout our career. Unfortunately, it’s also a highly biased one.

Unconscious biases have a critical effect on our judgment. A vast amount of research shows that bias related to gender, ethnic background, education, how we talk, walk and dress are deeply rooted in every step of our career journey. When it comes to bias and hiring, traditional systems and human behaviors tied to hiring practices have resulted in a skewed process, working in favor of the selected few and excluding large parts of the talent market.

Most hiring managers and HR professionals would agree that they cannot afford such talent discrimination. However, while companies struggle to find, attract and hire a diverse pool of top talented people, the recruitment process itself has remained surprisingly untouched. If your organization is serious about building diverse teams, it is crucial to practically review and change the hiring process to become both objective and unbiased. Here’s how to start.

1. Anonymised CV assessment

A focus on the skills, qualities, values, and ambitions of candidates instead of demographics such as education, gender, age, or place of birth will help build a talent pool with more candidates relevant for the actual job. Several studies have also established how many unconscious conclusions we draw upon a name or the color of a face. To systematically use tech solutions such as Exparang, which enables not only anonymized CVs but also “blind” candidate sourcing you will level the playfield as well as increase quality in candidate-job matches.

2. Structured interviews

According to hbr.com, managers rank unstructured interviews as the most effective tool for candidate assessment while research shows that these are in fact among the worst predictors of on-the-job performance. To pull out a formal sheet of competency-based questions in a first meeting might feel awkward at first but applying structure to interviews where every candidate gets to answer the same questions will minimize bias and help to evaluate future job performance. Ideally, the interviewer uses a scorecard for each candidate to grade answers and relevance based on skills- and value-based questions.

To avoid confirmation bias (that’s when we seek information that confirms our own perception) interviewers should also avoid informal conversations about the candidates between interviews to keep an open mind upon meeting them.

3. Make the shortlist longer

Sadly, hiring is often a reactive process based on an urgent need. When we’re in a rush we try to cut corners. Cutting corners in recruitment often means doing a fast and informal shortlist — you have an idea of what the successful candidate looks like, many are already in your closest network, and you have some recommendations from friends you trust, that must be a perfect list, right?! Not really, the informal shortlist is proven to pose a great barrier to diverse hiring since our unconscious bias leads us to think of candidates similar to their predecessors. In male-dominated industries and leadership roles, the outcome of such bias is obvious. Though, setting a routine to always add a few more names to a shortlist increases the chances of gender diversity and reduces the risk of dismissing candidates just because they didn’t come to mind first. Exparang has made such a proactive way of working even easier since it allows a constant flow of talent sourcing rather than isolating it to each individual recruitment.

4. Diverse hiring panel

The diversity & inclusion business case highlights the fact that diverse teams often make better and less biased decisions. This is true for hiring decisions too. Involving panel members from different areas and levels of the business will increase the likelihood of quality-hire consistency across the organization.</p>

Important to remember is that the panel should be making decisions based on the same set of criteria and expectations. The scorecard mentioned earlier comes in very handy here since it collects feedback and information on each candidate based on the same premises and provides the panel with comparable information to assess candidates side by side based on qualifications and job criteria.

5. Check reality through data

Without all information, we tend to draw our own conclusions. For example, an HR Director at a large construction company blamed the lack of applications from female engineers on her belief that it was predominantly male students going through engineering programs. When in fact graduation data from universities showed that the numbers are gender-balanced. Newly graduated women just didn’t find the company attractive. The next question from the HR Director was more relevant “how can we reach and convert these qualified women?”</p>

We’ve also met numerous CEOs complaining about the difficulty to find first or second-generation immigrants with a master’s degree in law or business management. They think so because these individuals don’t show up on the long lists. However, what sourcing data can show is that there are several applicants from this group, but they are being deselected early in the process. Most likely based on name, or that the recruiter doesn’t recognize their school of education.

Gathering and analyzing data will provide important insights on knowledge gaps in your organization, how to broaden the talent pool and by that, find the best people possible.

These are only some of the steps a company can take to make the hiring process less biased; branding, inclusive job descriptions, diverse reference taking, and HR and hiring manager training are equally important to set a fair stage for all. To achieve diversity and equity is complex and requires new solutions, innovation, and time, but the resources spent will show immediate results and pay back several times over. Exparang offers a great start in the diversity hiring journey, helping you to de-bias the recruitment process and take a major step towards becoming a more attractive employer, accessing top talent, and future-proofing your firm.

Hedvig Öster — Talent & Communication Advisor at Exparang

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