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Minimizing Bias in Hiring

By Distinct Advantage Partner

Unconscious bias affects all of us. Also referred to as implicit bias, unconscious bias is an underlying stereotype or attitude towards other groups of people, and often runs counter to what we consciously feel or believe. Sometimes this bias assigns a positive attribute to the group and sometimes it is negative. Unconscious bias plays a part in the hiring process, which ultimately affects the organization’s overall diversity, whether that be by gender, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or some other category.
Woman and man shaking hands at job interview

Employers can improve their organization’s diversity – thereby increasing inclusiveness, effectiveness, and even profits – by becoming aware of and taking steps to reduce unconscious biases. At the recruitment level, it isn’t possible to completely avoid any bias, but there are several ways an employer can work to overcome it for the betterment of the organization as a whole. While not comprehensive, the following can be a reminder or a starting point in taking another look at your own hiring processes.

Be Self-Reflective

Employers can look to outside experts or internal Diversity and Inclusion leaders for help training in unconscious bias. Helping employees, and in this case those who are on the front lines of recruiting, to understand what their implicit biases may be will help them go into a situation with more awareness. Having this type of instruction makes it easier for employees to begin talking more openly about biases – and working to mitigate them – once given the opportunity to explore and understand that everyone has them.

Review the Data

Does your workforce, leadership, and board resemble the demographics of your geographic area? If not, it may be time to set goals to better align your employee make-up with the talent pool. Consider where qualified applicants may be skipped over, or where recruiting targets may be missing different population segments. Evaluate your organization’s recruiting and hiring process, and seek input through continuous self-learning, from subject matter experts, and sourced from candidate feedback.

"Organizations that deliberately pursue self-evaluation and tools to heighten awareness will reap the benefits of a diverse workforce that is united in common values."

Words Have Power

Take a fresh look at your job descriptions. Are you using gender-neutral language? Is inclusiveness clear in the writing in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disabilities? Having a second (or third) pair of eyes on job descriptions can help, as can using augmented writing technology, which scans for potentially biased words and phrasing and suggests alternatives that are more effective.

Once your job descriptions are done, consider using the EEO language included in online job postings to celebrate your organization’s views on diversity. While this is often a boilerplate limited to “EEO Employer,” this can instead be turned into a powerful statement on inclusion.

Finally, make sure that the language used at work and throughout the hiring process is self-aware. Using terms and phrases like “that’s so gay,” “she gets overly emotional,” “we don’t see color – only people,” “you don’t look disabled,” or “have you had the surgery yet?,” minimizes people’s experiences and humanity. Being aware of the impact of even well-meaning comments is the first step of overcoming biases which erode workplace trust.

Examine the Selection Process

In a previous role, I coached people in revamping and rewriting their resumes. One of the people I was working with asked whether they should use a different first name on their resume because they had earlier experienced negative bias against their given name. I was saddened when this individual asked if they should continue using a different name on their resume in the hope they could avoid the discrimination they had experienced before. Unfortunately, this individual wasn’t alone.

As an employer, use this as a reminder to watch for the ways that bias creeps into each step of the hiring process. Using an applicant tracking system (ATS) or multiple resume reviewers can help overcome those unconscious, kneejerk responses with resumes. Structured interviewing can also reduce bias by ensuring each applicant is asked the same questions. Coupled with standardized questions, incorporating diverse interview panels can also assure different perspectives are included.

Organizational Values Emphasize your organization’s values in the hiring process, and if they have not yet been identified, now is a good time to do so. Focusing on organizational values fit rather than “cultural fit” can help avoid the “like me” bias that can cloud judgement. Use the organizational values fit to help look for people who provide “culture add” – individuals who bring a different experience and perspective and who share the same values. Organizations that deliberately pursue self-evaluation and tools to heighten awareness will reap the benefits of a diverse workforce that is united in common values.

For more information, please contact Camille Franks, Human Resource Consultant, PHR, SHRM-CP, AmeriBen Human Resource Consulting at 1-208-801-4042 or

Since 1958, AmeriBen has offered experienced services in Human Resource Consulting and Management, Third Party Administration, and Retirement Benefits Administration. They specialize in administering complex benefit plans for over 80 self-funded employer groups and fully-insured university plans totaling over 700,000 member lives.

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