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Nine Ways to Combat Unconscious Bias in Hiring

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 25/02/2016 Kira Makagon
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For anyone starting a company, a top concern is hiring the best people in order make up the strongest team. I place high value on diversity considerations, as I've seen in my companies how diverse teams yield the best results. RingCentral recently brought in a speaker to broaden awareness of diversity issues. Dr. Lauren Jackman of Medallia gave us a presentation called "Understanding Unconscious Bias: Tools and Strategies," focusing on women in leadership and on ageism, specifically.

Dr. Jackman's presentation began with an assumption that our company shares: diversity is valuable. RingCentral is the first truly global cloud communications company. To stay at the forefront of our industry, we must account for a host of different perspectives in order to continue to build for our diverse world. With women continuing to be under-represented in technology leadership roles and with the median age of our tech workforce skewing young, how can we make sure that we're accounting for the diversity we need to consider in order to serve a growing global customer base that is not disproportionately male and young?

Hiring for a diverse workforce in the global marketplace requires increased attention to detail and hard work, and that starts with hiring managers asking themselves about the biases they may carry - even ones that they don't know about. Dr. Jackman recommended that we all visit a website to take an Implicit Association Test (IAT). There are over a dozen of these, and I recommend that everyone try these tests themselves; they are eye-opening! My own results led me to understand that there is, indeed, a gap between my own theories and practices when it comes to biases. So, what can I do to make sure I'm being as fair as I can be?

According to Dr. Jackman, research shows the following ways to correct for bias in hiring:

1) Flexibility. Have policies as an organization that support equality. Policies such as flexible hours, work-from-home, and family leave make ALL employees happier and more productive at work.
2) Partnerships. Partner with groups that help you target diversity in your pipeline. One example is a group called Girls Who Code.
3) Teach. Teach employees about implicit bias through presentations like Jackman's. Google has been doing this and measuring it for a while and found that employees are better informed about bias and more likely to scrutinize their own behaviors.
4) Practice mindfulness. Dr. Jackman shared that one of the few strategies proven to reduce your bias score on the IAT is practicing mindfulness meditation for even just 10 minutes beforehand. Her theory is that meditation is strengthening you to be more deliberate in your thinking. She pointed out that we don't always have time for meditation, so she led us in an exercise called "box breathing," or "trigger breathing" in military terms, that can help, too. This involves breathing in for two counts, holding for two counts, breathing out for two counts, holding for two counts, and repeating.
5) Define requirements narrowly. Know that women are likely to apply for a position when they meet 100% or more of requirements; men will apply if they meet only 60%. Ask what are true requirements versus nice-to-haves.
6) Advertise without bias. Think carefully about job postings, and screen them. Some words, like "dominance" or "digital native" will turn off some populations. There is a company called Textio that offers a tool to which you can copy and post job listings. Then, they'll tell you if your posting is skewed in any way and how.
7) Hire groups. If you know you're hiring five people in the next year, think about that hiring as the year's "class." Thinking in that way increases the likelihood that women and minorities will be selected by twice as much. As diversity is very much about the composition of a group, this makes a lot of sense.
8) Use rubrics. Codify what's critical before interviewing candidates so that you're looking for candidates who meet clearly-defined requirements rather than trying to mold a job to a candidate you like.
9) Pay attention to your environment. Gender-neutral cues in the workplace - thinks like nature posters versus sci-fi ones -- will attract better candidates.

Dr. Jackman closed with an example that really drives home the point of how important it is to remove bias in hiring. According to a slide she showed citing a study by Goldin & Rouse in The American Economic Review in 2000, America's symphony orchestras were only 5% women in the 1970s. Orchestras began to hold "blind" auditions, which involved putting up a screen so that the player couldn't be seen and laying down carpet so that women's heels couldn't be detected clicking across the floor. These seemingly-minor changes increased the likelihood that women would join orchestras by 50%.

We don't need screens and carpeting in order to hire more diverse staff these days, but we do need to pay attention to details ranging from what we offer as a company to make our employees happy to how we conduct our hiring. With Dr. Jackman's talk, our company invested in tuning in to our unconscious biases, and I look forward to ongoing conversations about it as we continue to strive to diversify our workplace and the technology sector in general.

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