Diversity & inclusion4 min read

Four ways to strip bias from your hiring practice

It’s impossible to strip people of their biases.

Deeply ingrained in us from a young age, even when we become aware of our bias and have an intention to change, it’s impossible to remove – because most of the time, our bias is unconscious.

While we can’t change our personal biases, we CAN create processes and practices that help us circumvent them. In particular, we can change our hiring processes to help us avoid our bias.

In the latest episode of the Inclusion Works podcast, we highlight four practices you can implement this week to strip bias from your hiring process.

Episode 5

Names, home address, education and gender are all prone to unconsciously trigger prejudice.

Back in the 1950s Boston Symphony Orchestra attempted to eliminate gender bias by concealing candidates’ gender for a truly blind audition. Auditionees took to the stage to play from behind a screen to conceal their gender, in the hope that more women would make it past the first round of auditioning.

Initially they saw a minor uptick in the number of female musicians who made it through. But, the judging panel still sent disproportionately more male musicians to the next round. Why? Well, it turns out that the sound of the women’s heels could be heard as they walked on stage – tipping off the judging panel to their gender and subconsciously influencing their decision-making. When this was uncovered, musicians were asked to take off their shoes for auditions. And (perhaps unsurprisingly) almost 50% of the candidates who made it to the next round were women.

By the 1990s a study by Harvard and Princeton revealed that female musicians were actually slightly more likely to be hired than males – and today blind auditions are the norm for orchestras globally.

How can those of us in the corporate world borrow from this thinking?

Here are two quick ways to make your hiring more diverse.

Firstly, we can demand diverse candidates. Be relentless in your expectations with your recruiters; make it clear that you want a very diverse set of candidates from the get-go.

Also be very mindful of how that shortlist changes during the hiring process. Several Harvard studies show that you need at least two members of an underrepresented group in your finalist pool to have any chance of hiring outside of your status quo.

Why? According to the research, “Having only one woman or minority in a pool of finalists highlights how different he or she is from the norm – and decision-makers often unconsciously associate difference with risk or even incompetence.”

A second tactic is to anonymise CVs.

In the last decade a number of tools have emerged that mask identifiers on CVs, basically interrupting our biases just like the Boston Symphony Orchestra did back in the 1950s.

These platforms work by stripping out signifiers like names, addresses, education and gender that are prone to unconsciously trigger prejudice.

And they often pair the stripped down profile with a much more valuable and relevant assessment that actually reflects the candidate’s capabilities.

You can do it yourself if necessary by manually stripping out identifiers in the initial shortlist. It’s the best way to create a blind audition.

For more top tips to practically de-bias your recruitment process, download the Inclusion Works podcast in your favourite podcast app or by clicking HERE.

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