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How to Reduce Bias in Hiring

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While there is no surefire way to eliminate bias, there are some tangible steps to identify and reduce it at your organization. Here are some resources and best practices help you raise awareness about the effects of unconscious influence on your hiring targets and goals, and learn how to reduce bias in hiring at your organization.

The two types of bias

There are two kinds of bias:

  1. Known bias, which are the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in a conscious way.
  2. Implicit bias, which refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University notes that implicit biases “encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments and are activated involuntarily without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.”

Implicit biases shape our judgment and can lead us to make decisions in favor of a person or group of people even when we may not be aware we are doing so. In the workplace, implicit bias can influence who is considered for promotion or hire. As Iris Bohnet, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government and co-director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, shared with the Harvard Business Review, “left unchecked, biases can also shape a company or industry’s culture and norms.”

Confronting bias at your organization requires a reexamination of practices and procedures. The Harvard Business Review shares some strategies for combating hiring bias in their article, “7 Practical Ways to Reduce Bias in Your Hiring Process.” Here is a summarized list of dos and don’ts from that article to help you get started.

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Reducing bias in hiring dos:

  • Experiment with the wording of job listings by removing language with gender associations. Research shows that "masculine" language, including adjectives like “competitive” and “determined,” result in women “perceiving that they would not belong in the work environment.” On the other hand, words like “collaborative” and “cooperative” tend to draw more women than men.
  • Ask candidates to take a work sample or skills test. These can be helpful tools to compare applicants, and can serve as an effective predictor of future job performance (as opposed to solely reviewing prior experience).

Reducing bias in hiring don'ts

  • Engage in unstructured interviews. Instead, standardize the interview process by asking all candidates the same set of questions.
  • Allow surface demographic characteristics to play into your resume review. Hide names or other demographic information while reviewing resumes or other application materials.

Additionally, The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a nonprofit focused on women’s participation in technology, put together this checklist for reducing unconscious bias.

These are just a few resources and steps to get you started. Taking on implicit bias at your organization in a meaningful way involves looking closely at your practices, culture, and commitment to making change. Examining hiring practices specifically is an important place to begin, and we hope these tools are useful to you. If you’re interested in taking a look at your own personal implicit biases, try Project Implicit's online Implicit Associations Test.