“Acknowledge implicit bias in yourself.” This is Sarah Birdsong’s top advice to any employer looking to address biased hiring and improve diversity and inclusion practices in their business. Birdsong, a New York therapist, works with corporate clients as a consultant and educator, helping companies create great workplaces.
And a great workplace is a diverse one: teams perform better when diversity and inclusion become integral to business as usual, and so do companies. According to a 2015 report by McKinsey & Company showcasing the financial benefits of a diverse employee base, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to show financial returns that are higher than industry medians. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity, meanwhile, are 15 per cent more likely to have higher financial returns than their industry medians.
The why is obvious, but what about the how? Faced with the realization that your own hiring practices might benefit from a stronger focus on diversity, it might seem challenging to begin assessing and revamping your current process.
That’s where Sarah Birdsong’s advice on recognizing implicit bias comes in. Looking for biased hiring processes is the first step in creating a culture of diversity and inclusion.
What is implicit bias?
According to the Perception Institute, implicit bias is when we have “attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge.”
Because we’re not conscious of these biases, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize when we’re acting on them. They become a personal or organizational blind spot.
“What’s intriguing about blind spots is how pervasive and automatic they are. We’re not even aware that they’re there,” said Norma Tombari, RBC’s director of global diversity and inclusion, in a recent HR Professional magazine article on implicit bias in talent acquisition. “Even the most open-minded liberal person, who thinks they don’t have any biases, almost certainly does. It speaks to how our brains are hard-wired because of the various experiences we’re all subjected to: where we live, where we work, the messages we’ve processed and internalized over a lifetime.”
Does implicit bias really affect hiring?
The impacts of implicit biases in the corporate world can be jaw dropping – and all too real. One recent study exploring treatment of racial minorities in the Canadian workforce revealed that people with names that implied an Asian ethnicity were selected for interviews at a rate of 32.6 per cent lower than those with “Anglo-names”, when both groups had equivalent qualifications and experience.
Another research paper, this time on bias in auditioning musicians, showed how when orchestras began using screens to ensure that auditions were “blind” (a.k.a. judges unable to see the individual performing), the chances of women moving into the finals went up by 50 per cent.
Finding implicit bias in your hiring process
To start creating a more equitable and inclusive hiring process, it’s necessary to really engage with the power of implicit biases in yourself, and in others who are involved in the process.
“The first step is to acknowledge implicit bias as an inevitable though invisible factor,” says Birdsong. “Look at your hiring and recruiting practices under the assumption that implicit bias is impacting everything – because even though you can’t see it and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that it’s relevant, statistically speaking it is influencing every decision you make and every instinct you have. We have to actively counteract those biases.”
An implicit association test is a great way to start identifying some of those biases. Harvard offers a series of tests that will identify biases across a variety of identifiers: age, sexuality, nationality, race, skin-tone, weight and gender.
From there, you can use your new understanding to fine-tune your hiring practices, from how you write job descriptions and recruiting emails to what you ask in the interview. Consider the impact your website and offices will have on potential applicants – think about the subtle messages they could be sending about who will succeed in your organization.
By consciously creating strategies that take implicit bias into account, you’ll be able to address biased hiring and develop practices that will create a truly diverse and inclusive culture.