Unaware Ability: Top 6 Ways to Reduce Hiring Bias

by Sarah Reyes

The US Department of Labor says companies lose about 30% of an employee’s annual salary because of bad hiring decisions. Although there are many reasons organizations incur such unnecessary costs, one crucial factor stands out – cognitive or unconscious bias. 

The principal issue with unconscious bias is the person is naïve of its existence (unaware ability), making him susceptible to making subjective decisions based on qualitative or unmeasurable data. A growing body of evidence shows a positive correlation between cognitive bias and bad hires: the more pronounced the unconscious bias, the greater the risk of making a costly hiring decision.

All is not lost for hiring professionals because there are several ways they can mitigate the impact of cognitive bias when looking for and selecting talent for a job position. Here are the top six ways to reduce hiring bias.

1.  Educate Hiring Professionals about Unconscious Bias

Addressing unconscious bias or unaware ability in hiring starts with recognizing and acknowledging its existence in everyone, including business leaders. The sooner the organization accepts the pervasiveness of cognitive biases, the quicker the company can create and execute substantial efforts in managing such issues.

Companies must realize that unconscious bias training is only effective if everyone accepts and embraces the need to recognize and address these prejudicial tendencies. Unconscious bias (UB) training is essential to organizations that wish to adhere to a diverse, inclusive, and equitable philosophy. It increases people’s awareness of mental shortcuts that drive snap decisions about people’s character or talent. 

Unfortunately, not everyone believes that UB training meets an organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. A Florida State University longitudinal study supported this assumption, saying that diversity training does not increase the proportion of underrepresented minorities in corporations. 

An experimental study also observed that increased stereotyping awareness also increases stereotype expression. Hence, raising an organization’s cognizance of stereotypes might only lead to a greater incidence of prejudicial or stereotyping behaviors.

However, a meta-analysis of research spanning four decades revealed that diversity training could be an effective tool for organizations. A successful diversity training must have inclusive and relevant content and be delivered at the right length to the right audience. It must also reflect the company’s diversity efforts.

Author and Franklin Covey’s thought leader Pamela Fuller underscored the shortcomings of modern UB training. She said that companies do not structure their UB training effectively enough. For example, most organizations only provide evidence of cognitive biases. Unfortunately, the training sessions only reinforce their belief that people cannot do anything about unconscious biases. After all, they exist beyond the realm of consciousness.

Fuller recommends reframing the conversation to make UB training more comprehensive and robust. Trainers must provide training participants with opportunities to examine their mental processes and how these impact their behavior and decisions. Unconscious bias training participants must connect their behavior and choices to the discrimination and disadvantages facing various groups.

Companies can plan a UB training session where participants can share their stories, allowing everyone to listen and reflect on their experiences. Such activity enables people to build and strengthen an inclusive lens, letting them become more conscious of how mental biases impact behavior and decisions. Hiring managers will become more aware of these connections, allowing them to control emotions and perceptions’ influence on hiring decisions.

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2.Refine the Job Description to Eliminate Gendered Wording 

Educating hiring managers and everyone in the organization about unconscious bias is not enough to mitigate the lasting impact of unaware ability in bad hiring decisions. The company must also revisit their organizational foundations to align everything to their DEI philosophy. 

Recruiters and hiring professionals do not post job vacancies from thin air. They refer to the vacancy’s job description to tailor the advertisement. Hence, the company must reevaluate its job descriptions to check whether it is inclusive and equitable enough. Are there vague areas open to interpretation (or misinterpretation)? Are there statements or words that play to cognitive biases? 

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a research article about gender inequality resulting from job ads with gendered wording. The study said that “active,” “driven,” “confident,” and other masculine-coded words can reduce the chances of women applying for the job position. However, feminine-coded wordings, such as “support,” “honest,” and “interpersonal,” have negligible impact on male applicants.

Companies must examine and evaluate their existing job descriptions to identify discriminatory or prejudicial language. Sifting through each job description is a tedious undertaking. However, it is an activity the organization must execute if it wants an inclusive, diverse, and equitable workforce. 

Businesses can use artificial intelligence and other digital innovations to identify gender bias in their job descriptions. These programs scan documents for potentially sensitive wording, empowering organizations to rectify the issue and make their job descriptions less biased.

Recruiters and hiring professionals can use the refined job descriptions in their job posts, increasing the chances of getting an inclusive job candidate pool. It also improves branding. Glassdoor conducted a diversity and inclusion workplace survey in 2020 and revealed that 76% of job candidates want to work for companies with a diverse culture. Three out of four job seekers look for signs of diversity, inclusiveness, and equity in organizations to which they want to apply. 

Unsurprisingly, job seekers from underrepresented groups have higher expectations for corporate diversity. Close to a third (32%) of them will not apply to a company that lacks diversity. The figures are more glaring among Blacks (41%) and members of the LGBTQ community (41%).  

Making job descriptions more inclusive and free of subjective language can improve a company’s diversity appeal to more highly qualified candidates. It gives employers a better chance of hiring the best person their respective organizations need.

3. Standardize the Recruitment and Hiring Process

Addressing unaware ability in the hiring process starts with a clear understanding and appreciation of cognitive bias and how it impacts behavior and decisions. It also requires organizations to revisit their fundamentals, eliminating prejudicial wordings to convey an image of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. However, the pursuit of reducing hiring bias does not end there. Corporations and small and medium-sized businesses must also standardize their hiring processes.

Consistent recruitment and hiring processes empower organizations to assess, compare, and evaluate job candidates more efficiently. It also enables companies to promote fair hiring, leveling the playing field and ensuring everyone has an equal chance of landing the job. 

Recruiters and hiring managers often rely on their gut instinct to determine whether a job candidate is a good fit for the post. Although intuition or ‘gut feeling’ is valuable in some life circumstances, it is unreliable in recruitment and hiring.

Namely.com surveyed hiring managers to determine whether gut instincts impacted their hiring decisions. One out of two hiring managers recognized focusing too much on gut instinct led them to make a bad hire – the recruit simply was not the perfect fit for the job. The report underscored the negative impact of personal judgments, subjective preconceptions, and unconscious bias in making poor hiring decisions.

TalView also underscored three prevalent inconsistent or decentralized hiring practices: Nepotism during hiring and selection, inappropriate questions and uncalled-for comments during the interview, and hiring manager-devised job candidate evaluation tools. 

Standardizing hiring processes offers organizations many advantages. First, consistent processes produce consistent results. Consistent hiring processes are not a random pool of selection criteria that hiring managers pick for convenience. Standardized hiring processes allow companies to determine the effectiveness of each candidate selection criteria data point, empowering them to make the necessary tweaks to improve accuracy. 

Centralized hiring processes underscore an organization’s standards. Hence, a company without a standardized practice cannot call itself having standards. Standardized hiring processes outline the competencies required of the job, allowing businesses to codify the standards for more efficient measurement.  

Recruiters and hiring professionals use the same yardstick for evaluating job candidates. They have similar reference points, preventing the tendency to use personal judgment or cognitive bias in deciding who to recruit or hire. 

For example, a business might consider ‘excellent communication skills’ a crucial trait they want from a candidate. Unfortunately, hiring professionals might have dissenting viewpoints on what ‘excellent’ means. A clear and detailed definition of ‘excellent communication’ with measurable or observable characteristics can give recruiters a consistent tool for assessing job candidates’ communication skills.

Standardizing hiring processes requires consistent communication across organizational levels, allowing companies to convey reliable information to candidates and ensure the latter receives the same. If the business uses technology, it must be reliable, too.

4. Use Objective Pre-employment Assessments

Standardized recruitment and hiring processes require objective measures. Although companies can also employ subjective pre-employment assessments, a greater proportion of their screening procedures must be quantitative or measurable. Otherwise, the business cannot unshackle itself from unaware ability.

Subjective assessments only increase unreliability or inconsistency in candidate screening activities because hiring managers use their perceptions and judgments to evaluate a job candidate. Unfortunately, no two assessors will have an identical assessment of a single job applicant if they use subjective measures.

On the other hand, objective pre-employment screening tests empower hiring managers to evaluate job candidates across selection criteria parameters. Successful companies always refer to their job descriptions to formulate multiple-choice questions or hypothetical situational queries that test a candidate’s readiness for the job.

Businesses must use cognitive ability tests to measure candidates’ intelligence and mental abilities. These assessment tools gauge a person’s mental processes, verbal abilities, numerical skills, reasoning, and spatial perception. Hiring managers can examine cognitive ability test results to evaluate a candidate’s attention retention, concentration, response suppression, cognitive regulation, speed of information analysis, multiple simultaneous focus, cognitive versatility, functional memory, pattern identification, and categorization.

Employers must recognize that cognitive ability tests have four times the predictive power of educational attainment, three times that of work experience, and twice that of job interviews. Hence, it makes perfect sense for hiring managers to use these pre-employment screening tools to predict if a candidate is a good fit for the organization, lasts long in the business, and becomes an example of a good hire. 

Competency or skills testing is another pre-employment assessment that offers quantifiable results. Organizations must have a clearly-defined job description, complete with measurable knowledge, attitude, and skill components of each task. Job candidates undergo these tests to provide a more accurate description of their skill level and offer hiring managers actionable insight into a candidate’s suitability for the job. In essence, the test verifies whether the skills listed on paper are accurate or not. Employers expect new hires to work efficiently and effectively from Day 1, requiring only minimal supervision.

Companies can also use personality tests to round up their pre-employment screening activities. However, hiring managers should refrain from using non-standardized or non-norm-referenced measures, such as MBTI and DISC because these tools view personality as an either-or phenomenon and not as a sliding trait. The Five Factor Model-based personality tests are more objective because they provide a range of answers to test-takers, facilitating quantification.

unaware ability

5.Use Structured Interviews

A 2017 opinion in The New York Times painted job interviews as the least desirable method of assessing a job candidate’s suitability for a position. This method is highly subjective, leaving the evaluation to interviewers who might unconsciously employ preconceived notions about what the job entails.

Although interviews are subjective, companies can do something to make it quantifiable. Structured interviews offer hiring managers a more objective way to gauge a job candidate’s personality, communication skills, attitude, and other attributes necessary for the job position. 

Structured interviews are more consistent or reliable than unstructured formats. Hiring managers can devise norm-referenced questionnaires with a matrix-type scoring guide to help interviewers field uniform questions across job candidates. Everyone interviewed gets the chance to answer the same set of questions, varying only in their responses, and allowing hiring managers to compare against candidates and a reference group.

Research shows structured interviews have several elements making them more objective than unstructured versions. These include a well-defined interview model, measurement, and structure. This assessment tool relies on quantifiable constructs, hinging on an organization’s clearly-described job description.

Interview developers phrase questions according to job requirements and other organizational aspects. These questions undergo extensive internal reliability and validity testing before fielding them to job applicants.

Structured interviews also require a methodical approach to evaluating responses. Interviewers cannot randomly assign a score to an interviewer because there are valuation guidelines to follow. They also cannot ask questions not in the questionnaire to eliminate unconscious bias or unaware ability.

Companies can also add objectivity to the job interview process by utilizing a panel approach of at least three members. Panel job interviews provide hiring managers with different perspectives from other people in the business. In some cases, the organization might invite a third-party expert to conduct the interview together with insider decision-makers. Although most companies reserve the panel interview for management positions, rank-and-file job posts can also benefit from such a method. 

A panel interview is effective if the interviewers have diverse backgrounds and competencies, allowing them to check each other’s unconscious biases.

unaware ability

6. Consider Blind Hiring to Avoid Unaware Ability or Unconscious Bias

Some people might find blind hiring unusual for mitigating the effects of cognitive bias or unaware ability in hiring. However, removing personal information from a job candidate’s application documents can negate the tendency to form opinions about the person based on gender, name, place of origin, ethnicity, and other personal data. 

A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research described how the Toronto Symphony Orchestra improved the diversity of its musicians from 96% males in the 1970s to 54% two decades later. The orchestra devised a way to conduct the auditions objectively by placing a partition between the judges and applicants. The judges can only evaluate the audition based on the person’s musicality and not the musician’s gender, ethnicity, looks, or other personal detail. 

Harvard University Researchers also underscored the tendency of hiring managers to favor ‘whitened’ resumes. The report said a whitened resume increases a non-white job candidate’s chances of receiving a callback from prospective employers. This tactic removes the person’s ethnic or racial information from the application document, which would otherwise impact the chances of a more favorable outcome.

Blind hiring is almost similar to resume whitening, except it is hiring managers who remove prejudicial information from the selection criteria. They can refine the descriptions for job posts to be more inclusive and select demographic information to ignore. 

Using artificial intelligence can help speed up the process by automatically blocking personal information (i.e., name, address, educational attainment, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, and work experience) from the data set. Such programs only produce work-related attributes for hiring managers to explore further.

unaware ability

Final Thoughts On Preventing Unaware Ability or Unconscious Bias

Reducing hiring bias does not happen overnight. It starts with the organization’s realization and acceptance of unconscious bias’s pervasiveness, leading to the company’s concerted effort to address the issue.

Removing prejudicial wordings from the job description lays the foundation for a successful program to combat hiring bias. Training and educating hiring managers on recognizing and managing preconceptions and how they affect hiring decisions also matter.

Using objective pre-employment screening tools, including tests and interviews, can help. Blind hiring and standardizing the hiring process should assist the business in ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workforce. 

Photos credit PEXELS

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