Seven Powerful Ways to Use Tech to Overcome Recruiting Bias

Sometimes bias creeps into hiring processes without anyone even realizing it. When you favor a white male candidate over a non-white or female candidate, is it really because he or she is the best person for the job—or is there a subconscious bias at work?

HR technology tools are available to help recruiters weed out bias. But, do these recruiting tools really work? The answer is a qualified yes—if the companies that use them are serious about achieving diversity. Here are seven ways you can use tech to overcome recruiting bias.

  1. Eliminate subconscious bias. Organizations that want to overcome bias might find it inadvertently slipping into their recruitment processes. In a recent TED talk, Yassmin Abdel-Magied cites the example of the Boston Symphony using blind auditions in the 1950s to boost the number of women in the orchestra. Even with blind auditions, gender bias still occurred based on the sound of the women’s heels as they entered the room. It was only after musicians were asked to remove their shoes that women’s representation in the orchestra climbed to a non-gender-biased percentage of about 50 percent.

At their best, tech tools eliminate bias by evaluating raw talent—the ability to play music, to write software code, to do math-related tasks—without letting subconscious prejudices enter the picture.

  1. Use testing to boost objectivity. While managers rank unstructured interviews as the best way to evaluate candidates, an article in Harvard Business Review points out that these face-to-face interactions are far less reliable than measurable assessment tools like mental ability tests and aptitude tests. Rather than trying to replicate ourselves in our hiring practices (a common pitfall that stymies diversity), tech boosts objectivity with dispassionate and non-personality-driven metrics.
  2. Write better job descriptions. Be aware that unintentional bias can seep into descriptions for job openings. Does the language you use have inadvertent masculine or feminine connotations, perhaps reflecting an expectation about which gender should fill the job? For instance, words like “ninja” or “rock star” might sound masculine, while words like “support” or “pleasant” might register as feminine.

Your HR team can turn to anti-bias tools like Textio and Gender Decoder to find more gender-neutral language when listing job openings.

  1. Avoid bias in resume perusal. Many HR veterans likely recall an eye-opening field experiment by the University of Chicago and M.I.T., in which fictitious resumes sent in response to job openings received a 50 percent higher callback rate for interviews if the names were “white-sounding” (Emily and Greg) versus ethnic-sounding (Lakisha and Jamal).

With the objective of avoiding such bias, the tech company GapJumpers uses a “blind audition” approach that evaluates applicants by skills and work performance rather than by names and keywords on resumes. Results have been encouraging. Instead of just one-fifth of minority and female applicants making it to first-round interviews, GapJumpers reports that its approach boosts that rate to 60 percent.

  1. Prioritize ability over cultural fit. Many recruiters talk about the importance of hiring people who are a good “cultural fit” for their companies, but can this inadvertently lead to homogenous organizations where diversity and competency are secondary considerations? There are ways to bring qualified minority and female job candidates to the attention of potential employers even in white, male-dominated industries.

Quartz Media LLC cites the example of CodeFights, whose gamified coding platform helps tech companies find talented programmers based on pure talent. Gender and ethnic bias don’t enter the picture—and neither does an arbitrary assessment of “cultural fit,” which often depends upon how the interviewer judges the job applicant’s personality as meshing with his own.

  1. Don’t stereotype by gender. Of course, everyone wants the best candidate for a job, but the sad reality is that misconceptions about innate gender abilities can cloud a manager’s judgment. Such bias came to light in a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, wherein managers chose male candidates over female candidates by a two-to-one margin for a job that required simple mathematical skills. Managers (both men and women) more frequently chose the male candidate, even when testing revealed the female candidate to have equivalent or better skills.

Using results of the test alone would have eradicated the gender bias, and the company would have benefited by hiring the better employee.

  1. Assess your diversity efforts. Using HR analytics allows you to determine whether your recruitment efforts are as diverse as they should be. The online magazine Rework cites the value of using big data for HR—including predictive analytics, talent analytics, HR analytics, and human capital analytics—as a means for reducing discrimination and bias. Analysis of the raw data provides insights into the effectiveness of current recruitment efforts and allows companies to make adjustments if practices to improve diversity are falling short.

Trends toward workplace diversity will ultimately improve corporate productivity. According to research by McKinsey & Company, financial performance is significantly better for those businesses that have achieved greater racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. So, recruiting for diversity makes sense—and using the tips I’ve mentioned with recruiting tech to eradicate subconscious bias is an excellent way to help achieve it.

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