Diversity, equity and inclusion are taking center stage in the workplace now that a new White House administration has ordered all federal agencies to root out systemic racism from programs and institutions. This action is very important; especially after a tumultuous era created by the previous administration that did not value diversity, nor create real economic advancement opportunities for minority workers and minority-owned businesses.
For small-business owners who are curious how to reduce discrimination in their workplace, the easiest place to start is by assessing your unconscious biases during your hiring practices. Unconscious biases can affect your company in a negative way when you are unaware of them. By understanding what they are, you can reduce discrimination to make better decisions around hires and promotions or selecting vendors and partners.
Unconscious bias, also called implicit bias, is an unconscious form of discrimination and stereotyping that is based on gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, ability or age. It is different from cognitive bias, a predictable pattern of perceptive errors that result in a misunderstanding of reality, such as blaming others, confirming your own opinions with the same sources, attributing success to luck or assuming everyone shares your opinions or beliefs. Unconscious bias appears silently, sometimes visibly, in your thoughts, words or actions during an interview with a potential candidate that looks, sounds and appears to be different from you.
It is the difference between making snap judgments of a candidate for something they cannot control and carefully assessing the candidate’s skills for the job you need to fill.
Unconscious bias can play a huge role in hiring, recruitment and interviews. To reduce discrimination in your hiring decisions, start by identifying these eight unconscious biases in yourself and team practices.
- Confirmation Bias: This is where we ask irrelevant, nonessential interview questions that confirm and conform to our beliefs, while overlooking red flags that contradict that belief. This usually appears when a candidate comes highly recommended and you focus only on the good qualities, despite the reality they may not be a good fit for the role after all. The best way to avoid this is to structure your interview with prepared questions that relate to the job needs. This will help you compare candidates fairly.
- Affect Heuristic: This is a shortcut our brains take to make decisions quickly based on our current emotions. Have you ever gotten a flat tire on the way in to work and somehow that ruined the rest of your day? To avoid letting your emotions affect what you think of a candidate, be aware of how you feel during the interview and remember that you are there to see if the person is a good fit for the job.
- Halo Effect: This happens when we allow a positive attribute about a candidate to blind us from other important indicators. Have you ever interviewed someone who went to the same college as you and suddenly they become your best friend? You become charmed by that fact and fail to see they do not have the right experience for the job. It is a good thing to admire major achievements in others, but try to focus on the candidate’s qualifications for the job as a whole.
- Horn Effect: This is when one not-so-attractive thing about a candidate makes you unable to recognize all the good things they have going for them. An example is when a candidate tells you they dropped out of college or had prior arrests; your mind suddenly thinks the worst of them. People make mistakes and select choices that do not always make sense, but that does not mean they do not deserve a shot at interviewing for the job.
- Affinity Bias: This type of unconscious bias occurs when we prefer job applicants that we share something special with. Maybe the candidate shared with you they like the same music as you do during the interview. Having something in common is a great thing, but it does not always signal they are a good hire.
- Beauty Bias: A beauty bias inadvertently encourages you to prefer attractive candidates, even though good looks do not make someone a better employee. Unless you work as a talent agent, beauty alone is not enough to hire someone. Make sure you have a structured interview to help you make an objective decision.
- Conformity Bias: Conformity bias occurs when we change our choices to match the opinion of the group or people we want to please. This happens when you have made up your mind about candidate A, but feel pressured to change your choice because the other hiring managers said they like candidate B. Make sure you communicate how you feel to the group and voice your concerns where necessary.
- Gender Bias: This happens when we show preference for a certain gender based on embedded beliefs. Gender does not determine who will be a good leader, manager, follower or employee. This bias is complex and pervasive. To eliminate gender bias, your business will need to create bold hiring initiatives to make sure you give candidates of different backgrounds a fair opportunity.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how unconscious biases affects our decisions, especially when we hire candidates. There are many more ways these biases appear in our day-to-day, but awareness is key to make a positive mark in your workplace. A workplace committed to eliminating discrimination will benefit from happier workers, productive teams and harmonious environments.
EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.
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