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Beware: Bias can creep into hiring decisions

by on
in Centerpiece,Hiring,Human Resources

rejected job applicationNumerous studies show how dis­­crimination can creep into hiring decisions—possibly without the decision-maker even realizing it.

Note: Whether the participants in the following studies consciously or unconsciously discriminated is difficult to determine, but they are good examples of how managers—who may never consciously think: “I don’t want to hire a woman (or minority)”—may allow gender, race, or another protected characteristic to unconsciously influence them.

  • A study of orchestral auditions showed that female musicians had a better chance of being hired when the process was blind (i.e., the musicians performed behind a screen) than when the judges could see the performers.
  • A study conducted by the Mas­sa­chu­­setts Institute of Tech­nol­ogy and the University of Chicago involved sending 5,000 résumés with similar qualifications in response to job ads placed in Boston and Chicago newspapers. The résumés were randomly assigned stereotypically Caucasian-sounding names, such as Emily, and stereotypically African-American-sounding names, such as Lakisha. Result: The “Caucasian applicants” received 50% more callback interviews than the “African-American applicants.”

Here are four tips to help ­managers maintain objectivity and reduce the effect of unconscious biases:

1. Establish hiring criteria that specify the qualifications needed for each job. Managers must be able to articulate court-worthy reasons for rejecting/accepting applicants based on the established standards.

2. Use a blind applicant-review system. Have all résumés sent to HR, which then makes copies with the identifying information blacked out. The copies get passed on to the appropriate managers to decide whom to call for an interview. With names and addresses taken out of the picture, it will be easier to argue in court that the managers based their decisions on qualifications alone.

Of course, once the managers see or speak to the applicants, it will be more difficult to keep the process objective. The next two steps can help.

3. Ask applicants the same questions. Give everyone the same shot to win the job. If allowed to wing it, an interviewer’s biases may unwittingly affect the course of the interview. For example, an interviewer finds out that an applicant lives in a neighborhood that the interviewer associates with drug dealers. This may result in the interviewer holding the applicant to higher standards by asking more demanding questions and judging the applicant with a more critical eye.

4. Use diverse interviewers. There is a tendency to favor people who are like oneself. Eliminate this potential bias by placing diverse managers on an interview panel, requiring multiple rounds of interviews with different managers, etc.

Best practice: Create a checklist to stay focused during interviews—and retain it to document the hiring process in the event a spurned candidate decides to sue.

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