Are you really recruiting the best person for the job? Challenging unconscious bias

We know leaders mean well when they share with us that they always hire the ‘best person for the job’.

And we know it can be unsettling when they learn that there are all sorts of hidden biases – unconscious biases – that can impact our decision-making about who is the best person for the job, among many other decisions we make everyday in business.

There’s now extensive research from the fields of business psychology and neuroscience to show we are all biased, even though we like to think that we always apply logic and reason in our decision-making. The reality is we all have these biases so ingrained we hardly notice them.

That’s why we find it useful in our consulting work to highlight a range of cognitive biases that impact decision-making and inhibit diversity progress. It’s powerful when the examples come from leaders in our workshops, particularly when they reflect on what perspectives may have been missed when making key decisions due to affinity bias, groupthink, and sunflower bias among others.

We also draw on research like the study by Yale University social psychologist, John Bargh, in which subjects primed with the concept of the 'elderly' while doing a simple task later walked more slowly when leaving the experiment than subjects in the control group who read words that were not related to the elderly.

Having bias isn’t bad – it’s natural. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us – it’s called affinity bias – particularly in social situations. We like to have our views confirmed rather than challenged (confirmation bias) and groups in the workplace have a tendency to align with the views of leaders, especially when the boss speaks up first (sunflower management).

Having bias isn’t bad - it’s natural.

But this becomes a problem in the workplace when subtle biases and stereotypes associated with different demographic groups lead us to overlook or unintentionally exclude some people and groups in the workplace.

We've compiled some practical tips for leaders to reduce the potential for unconscious bias when recruiting and ensure decision-making is genuinely fair and objective.

We've framed these tips as ‘when-then’ statements because psychologists have shown that having a specific and tangible intention plan is more likely to lead to behavioural change. Put simply, it's about creating 'instant habits' to help us reach our goals. In her 2014 HBR Spotlight article, social psychologist Heidi Grant says that if-then planning increases the likelihood of individuals reaching their goals by 300%.

By making ourselves aware of the possibility for bias, and by taking a simple action, we can reduce (and in some cases even eliminate) unconscious bias.

Our team has compiled a few tips:

When you’re preparing your job advertisement, then …

  • Proof read your role advertisements with a diversity lens to ensure the language is inclusive. It’s important that descriptions have a mix of words associated with male and female characteristics to attract a diverse talent pool. Words such as 'dominant' and 'competitive' have a masculine connotation'; words such as 'committed', 'interpersonal' have a feminine connotation.

When you’re briefing a recruiter or agency, then …

  • Share your expectation of receiving the broadest possible candidate pool. Ask recruiters to provide you with gender-balanced and culturally diverse shortlists for management roles. Explain that you would like them to focus on seeking a range of diverse skills and experience.

When you’re preparing to shortlist candidates, then …

  • Consider receiving the shortlisted CVs as 'blind CVs' with references to gender, age, disability and ethnicity removed. This will ensure you assess each candidate fairly against the requirements of the role and have a diverse mix of talent in your candidate pool.
  • Ask candidates if they have any special requirements for the interview (these may include access requirements to the interview premises, resource or support requirements).

When you’re setting up a selection panel, then …

  • Ensure you ask a diverse group of leaders to sit on the panel, including at least one male and female representative of equal decision making authority. Train those leaders to recognise unconscious biases and encourage them to provide feedback to each other.

When you’re interviewing, then …

  • Focus on the candidate’s skills, experience and knowledge.
  • Use competency-based questions that relate to the inherent role requirements and ensure everyone is assessed on the same questions.
  • Give every candidate the same amount of time so they have equal opportunity to demonstrate their strengths.
  • Appreciate benefits of diversity of thought in team make up.
  • Give adequate time to the process. Stress, time pressures, and cognitive overload can exacerbate our unconscious biases.

And a final crucial point …

  • When finalising the remuneration package, ensure there is no gender pay inequality.

If you'd like to know more about our programs to help reduce bias in decision-making, please call us on 0429 185 700 or email info@diversitypartners.com.au

 

Cognitive biases muddy our decision making. We rely too heavily on intuitive, automatic judgements, and even when we try to use reason, our logic is often lazy or flawed.
— Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne, 'Outsmart Your Own Biases', Harvard Business Review, May 2015