The average person makes nearly 35,000 decisions a day from what to eat for breakfast, to what to wear, what entertainment to consume, what to do at work, and more. Some may opt for the path of least resistance, relying on experiences, emotions, and peers for guidance. But when it comes to recruiting and hiring, the stakes are higher, and the consequences can be much greater than deciding whether to start your day with yogurt or cereal. Business leaders and talent teams must make a more conscious effort and get off autopilot mode when it comes to attracting, engaging, hiring, and advancing talent. Otherwise, biases—whether conscious or unconscious—can creep in and lead to homogeneous hiring that could further contribute to a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workforce.
We’re starting to see efforts in pop culture to promote skills, talent, and personality characteristics instead of physical looks, names or other qualities that can lead to bias, with reality shows like Love Is Blind, The Voice, and The Masked Singer, for example. These shows hide the contestants (and particularly their physical and racial attributes) in some way, whether from the judges or each other, with the objective of finding the “most talented” or “compatible” individual, only revealing their full identities when they “get the job.”
This anonymized approach puts the focus on candidates’ abilities and gives them a chance to demonstrate their potential “performance” in the role before any decisions can be made, which can be a net positive. However, for those communities who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented, such as BIPOC, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ individuals, these TV shows represent the physical manifestation of the mask they’ve had to wear to appeal to decision-makers. Even when identities are revealed, does the figurative mask truly come off? Can they really bring their true, authentic selves to the workplace, or must they continue to play a role to be welcomed and advance their careers? Perpetuating this façade is where The Masked Singer—and most companies—fall short along the diversity journey.
Establish a process to create more equitable hiring
Hiring may seem uncomplicated to the average person. A recruiter or HR team member reaches out to a candidate, schedules an interview, shares notes and a resume with the hiring manager. Then it’s up to each person to determine the questions/focus areas for the conversation and whether the candidate is a good fit for the role. Equitable hiring requires more standardization, processes that are fair and repeatable, increased training, and the right technology.
The entire talent process must focus on the requirements for the role and have appropriate checks and balances so each candidate gets the same level of consideration. Consider which hard and soft skills are needed and what can be taught on the job vs. what baseline knowledge this candidate must have coming into the role.
When it comes to the interview, have agreed-upon questions and the beginnings of a script ready in advance that aligns with the goals for the role. Don’t leave responses up to subjective interpretation. Create an answer key for each response that helps determine a good or bad answer and develop intervention steps that help move candidates to one side or the other.
A similar approach should also be taken when it comes to writing job descriptions, as the language used can trigger biases. Focus on each requirement and tie it to the success of the job’s performance.
Bias, conscious or otherwise is part of the human experience, it doesn’t make us bad—simply human. That bias can’t be turned off during the hiring process, but when we’re aware of it, we can prevent it from having a negative impact on the goals we’re trying to accomplish. If you’re at once drawn to a candidate, recognize what’s happening. Then, during the process, ask questions that challenge your gut reaction. Be a bit skeptical toward your initial reaction. Similarly, if there’s something about the candidate that immediately turns you off, push back on that feeling and ask questions that allow you to remain open-minded to better understand where they may be coming from.
Focus on the accomplishments, not the pedigree
Early in my career, I’d meet with hiring managers looking for engineers. I can’t tell you the number of awkward professional interactions I ran into because a Black guy showed up for the interview. For many, “Chinor Lee” reads like the name of an Asian woman, and they got hung up on that when really my qualifications, skills, and experiences are what should matter most.
To mitigate these types of assumptions and biases, talent leaders should consider using technology and implementing processes that redact personal identifiers from applications. An anonymized resume will enable recruiters and hiring managers to focus on the things that matter most, remove information that can lead to improper assumptions or gut reactions to candidates, and help to build a more diverse candidate slate. This can also interrupt cognitive bias and subjectivity and may help move historically underrepresented candidates through the hiring funnel.
Here are just a few of many examples of where this practice can make a difference:
- Name: Judgement can be made at first glance of a person’s name, with research showing that “white-sounding names” receive 50% more callbacks for an interview when compared to African American names.
- Address: Assumptions can be made on status, salary expectations, or a problematic commute, unfairly knocking out candidates from consideration based on their current geographic location.
- Education: While education level can be critical for particular roles (like doctors, nurses, or lawyers), revealing the name of a university or college can lead to multiple biases like affinity bias or elitism.
- Dates: By displaying employment or education dates, ageism could block hiring teams from welcoming highly qualified candidates.
I’m job hunting. What does this mean for me?
Whether you’re job hunting or you’re an employee looking to champion DEI initiatives at your company, there are steps you can take to ensure your organization–or your future employer–is working toward a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
- Do your research. Look at what other employees are already saying about the company on social media, Glassdoor, and the career site. Is DEI reflected in the corporate values and are they transparent about their DEI goals? Do current employees trust the vision and direction of the organization? Is there a visual representation of diversity among the current staff, including at the leadership level?
- Be intentional. If your organization doesn’t have a DEI focus and this is an area you are passionate about, find ways to champion this internally. Consider creating an employee resource group to open up the conversation and help organize third-party educational seminars on DEI.
- Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your recruiter or your company’s HR team about their investment in DEI and how they are looking to achieve milestones. What does DEI look like to this organization? What technology are they using to help with this process, and how does it work? Is there a hiring and interview process written down, and how frequently is that process revisited?
At the end of the day, we’re on this journey together to remove bias and improve hiring to create more diverse and inclusive workforces. Change won’t happen overnight, so we must be steadfast and unwavering to ensure progress. Everyone involved—recruiters, talent and business leaders, employees, and job seekers—should practice patience and understanding, while focusing on progress over perfection.
Chinor M. Lee, Sr. is the global head of culture, belonging, inclusivity and diversity at iCIMS.