Let’s say your search committee or hiring team is on the same page about the value of diversity.
You’ve stated your ground rules for the search and had some conversations about diversity resistance—and now the resumes come rolling in. With all of these highly qualified candidates to choose from, how can you make sure unconscious bias doesn’t cause you to favor one over the other?
Take note of when you start to gravitate toward a resume with credentials you instantly recognize or understand—maybe the candidate attended your alma mater, or you’re both members of the same Greek life organization. It’s not that a candidate with familiar credentials shouldn’t be considered, but you should be aware of how much weight those credentials carry in your mind.
Research shows that when we encounter a culturally familiar candidate, a few things happen:
• we tend to downplay weaknesses and highlight strengths, and
• we tend to apply ambiguous, shifting, and exclusionary criteria in a way that favors the familiar candidate.
How can you make sure unconscious bias doesn’t cause you to favor one candidate over the other?
An example of ambiguous criteria is “cultural fit”—a concept often used in lieu of saying “They’re just not like us (so we don’t want them).” Cultural fit is usually a criterion that goes undiscussed and unspoken and tends to be justified with the rationale that a homogeneous team will perform better and have higher morale. In reality, a homogeneous team misses out on the benefits of diversity, like collaborative problem-solving and innovation.
An example of shifting criteria is emphasizing the importance of a prestigious degree when considering an unfamiliar candidate, but downplaying prestige when considering a familiar candidate. To reduce bias in the decision process, be sure to establish criteria in advance so all candidates are evaluated according to the same factors.
You should also consider removing, introducing, and ranking criteria in a way that doesn’t automatically favor those with familiar or majority-group backgrounds. Instead, take into account the achievements of candidates in your target groups.
For example, a woman may have faced more obstacles to professional advancement, or she may have had a different professional timeline than most men on account of mid-career maternity leave. You may want to rank how far a candidate has come in their own careers, along with the quality of their achievements, higher than how far a candidate has risen, or the quantity of their achievements.
When you revise your resume review process to grow diversity rather than stifle it, you welcome new candidates you hadn’t considered in the past. The next step is to meet and get to know those new candidates by interviewing with diversity competence.
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This post is part of a series addressed to HR and other hiring managers about integrating diversity competence into each step of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment and hiring, to creating an inclusive workplace, to evaluating and cultivating leaders who will take inclusive excellence at your enterprise to the next level.