The spotlight in all organizations today is on building diverse workforces representing a range of skills, geographies, ethnicities, genders, etc. Yet, inspite of investing huge sums of money, energy, and even creating specialized teams for this purpose, companies aren’t as successful as they’d like to be.

Why? Because of unconscious biases at play. These biases stem from our preference for people who are similar to us, and provide a feeling of safety, or feel familiar. In other words, they steer us away from differences, which form the foundation for diversity. Infact, research shows that men and women alike treat minorities differently within milliseconds of seeing them. Our brains automatically apply stereotypes within the blink of an eye.

If left unchecked, these biases become a part of the company culture and norm. So, the key is to take the bias out of the hiring process, and not the person. Here are some ideas on how to do that:

Revisit your job descriptions. Our biases show up in the language we use. “Even subtle word choices can have a strong impact on the application pool,” says Harvard Professor Francesca Gino. For example, fewer women may apply for a job that calls for a ‘dominant’ or ‘competitive’ personality because these are traits associated with men in the workplace. However, terms like ‘collaborative’ draw more women. The same goes for words like ‘energetic’ or ‘fresh’ – they attract younger applicants.

Set rules for how you evaluate resumes. Our unconscious biases about race, religion, or even genders, can lead us to view the same qualifications differently for minority and majority candidates. Studies show that white candidates receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than black candidates with the exact same resume – all that differed was the name of the candidate. Iris Bohnet, Director at the Harvard Kennedy School says, “the fact is Latisha and Jamal do not get the same number of callbacks as Emily and Greg. You need to look at what each person brings to the table – beyond their names, geographies, age.”

Conduct standard interviews. The belief that unstructured interviews – which lack a set of fixed questions or practices – are more effective in assessing candidates, is a myth. Research shows that such organic interviews are unreliable for predicting job success. On the other hand, standardized processes/ practices allow for the interviewer to focus on factors that have a direct impact on performance and skills. For example, women experience greater stress when being evaluated by panels of men, while for men, the gender composition doesn’t affect them. Understanding, catering to, and standardizing nuances to the benefit of candidates, is recommended.

While it is impossible to completely eliminate unconscious bias, continually evaluating our processes and practice can take us a step closer to diversity and inclusion. How would you like to address such biases?

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