May 5, 2022

Recognizing Unconscious Bias and Improving the Hiring Process


Episode Highlights

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Join Leah and Robyn as they discuss unconscious bias in the hiring process. Starting with the definition, they’ll go into how both unconscious bias and affinity bias can affect the interviewing process, why you’d want to challenge it and change your team. They’ll also discuss different ways to approach bias in the interviewing process, and how to discover room for improvement.

Episode Transcript

Hi, welcome to today’s episode! We’re going to be talking about unconscious bias. I’m Robyn from Hirewell and today I have Leah with me from our sister company at Holistic and we wanted to talk about unconscious bias. So Leah, can you tell me a little bit about unconscious bias?

Sure. So sometimes it’s called implicit bias. I think more recently it’s been called unconscious bias. And what it is basically is any kind of prejudice or any unsupportive judgment or preconceived notion or even preconceive preferences, in favor of or against a person, a group of people.

And it’s usually something that’s considered like unfair and not great.

We often also do see unconscious bias in association with specific demographics and in regards to privilege, right? So race, gender, religion, age, disability or ability. And various different things can impact or would have to do with these unconscious biases. And then also typically the unconscious bias would be directed at groups of people who are traditionally marginalized, the negative ones, but there also is something called affinity bias.

That I think, I don’t know- most of us, I’m sure all of us are guilty of this. You see someone and you meet someone and you have something in common or there’s just some connection and you immediately start to think good things about them, even though you don’t know them at all. So it can be a positive thing, but most often it’s the things that we want to address really are when it affects people negatively.

And there are situations in which affinity bias can affect people negatively. Like for instance, if you’re interviewing people for a job and you’ve experienced affinity bias for one candidate, not the other candidate and maybe they’re equal in the quality or how good they’d be at the job, or even maybe the person you don’t have the affinity for might actually be a better candidate. But because you felt like you connected with this other person, or you went to the same school or whatever, you might be more apt to offer a job to someone who even might be a slightly lesser candidate. Yeah. I mean, we’ve all heard the phrase, like “Yeah he’s great.

I’d love to get a beer with him” or “He goes to the same golf club I do.” I don’t go golfing but you know what I mean. And that can really affect hiring in a lot of ways. So let’s talk about how unconscious bias kind of plays into hiring, right? So obviously when you’re trying to find somebody to add to your team, you’re making a lot of snap judgments about a precedent in a moment. You’re looking at their resume, you’re looking at their profile,

you’re talking to them, you’re hearing stories about their past, you know, and they’re nervous, right? They’re going to be anxious. They’re going to repeat things. They might say something awkward and you might be like, okay, is this person really awkward? So there’s already a hundred things that go into an interview.

But when we’re talking about interviewing, usually we talk about putting everything on the person who’s interviewing. Like how to respond to questions correctly, how to like show up for an interview in the best way possible. But when we’re talking about unconscious bias, really what we’re talking about is the interviewer.

Now, when you have, say a panel of interviewers and you’re working on identifying unconscious bias, it can be really hard for people to be like, yes I do in fact have unconscious bias. And we all have unconscious bias. It’s just a part of growing up in a society where you hear messages on TV, you hear messages from parents, you hear messages from the radio- the radio because I’m at 1940s.

But it’s impossible to become an adult without avoiding any unconscious bias. So how do you take it out of an interview process? So there’s a lot of great ways that companies in the past have tried to address unconscious bias and get rid of it. So let’s talk a little bit about the pitfalls of that. First of all, the companies that have taken this to the like ultimate level, right?

The example that we’ve all heard is the orchestra example, right? They put down, they tried to do unconscious bias by having a screen up but they were still predominantly getting male musicians. And then they put down a rug and they can no longer hear the high heels.

And suddenly the gender disparity began to close. Right. So it can be really interesting to see how, at what point unconscious bias really begins to play into a hiring process. People are people. They’re going to show up to work on the first day of work and they’re going to be whoever they are,

right? If you’ve had a hundred percent unconscious bias eliminated from your interview process that means doing a resume that might have all the information wiped from it, except for the key details about previous jobs, not even putting in the titles of the companies they’ve worked at possibly or not even putting what university they went to,

just the degree they got and the GPA. And then if somebody’s like gets through the hiring process, shows up on the first day and has a horrible first 60 days and ends up washing out, unconscious bias ends up playing out in the office versus in the interviewing process. So then you can say okay, the problem is with my people. Right? Right.

So some companies try to mitigate unconscious bias in different ways. The best thing to do is truly to train your employees on unconscious bias and give them the ability to start tackling these big problems and thinking about things and taking a look at your pipeline. But sometimes you need to lead a horse to water as it were.

There’s a lot of apps out there that will either reduce the entire resume as I previously stated to just the core information or they’ll take away the photo and just put initials. And then at some point in the interview process, when you’re like talking to somebody on the phone, you can see where there might be issues with unconscious bias with which interviewers are having the most hangups with candidates in process. Right.

This requires somebody on the other side of the interview process taking notes and paying attention to this very specific problem, not just like, is this candidate a good candidate? Which obviously is a part of the process, you have to be like yes, this candidate is good, which is why they’re going through the interview process. But seeing where the problem might be and then resolving that problem on the side of your office, your employees.

So that way, when you’re interviewing candidates you can create a more diverse pipeline and thus a more diverse office. Yeah and at Holistic we have a pipeline tool that we love to use. And what it does is, it measures demographics. It’s a little bit, a little bit binary. We do male, female, and then different race or ethnicity groups. And then we measure what percentage of all of those people who hit those demographics- how many of them applied? Like what percentage of them applied? It was 50% white people applied, 2%, Pacific Islanders applied, whatever, what have you.

And then we break it down to five different stages. So it’s application stage, interview stage, all the way to offer stage. And so what you’d like to see if you had a completely equitable process, right? If there was complete parody in your interview process from start to finish, you’d see that if 2% of the folks applying were Pacific Islanders, 2% should get hired, right? The percentages shouldn’t change much, right? So we can measure exactly where the bias comes in, essentially. Like a lot of times it’ll be like on the interview process, all of a sudden 25% of black candidates drop off the process.

That’s a huge red flag, right? So there’s something happening in that interview process. Sometimes it’s they get an offer but they get- tenure is like 60 days and then they leave. That’s a different, that’s clearly like maybe a culture issue with the organization. Maybe they didn’t feel comfortable,

they didn’t feel safe, what have you. So there’s different things that we can look at using various tools to really pinpoint where the issues are arising so that you can then put attention there. You can audit your interview process. You can look at it more carefully. You can do things like standardizing the interview process as much as possible so that all the interviewers have, are asking the same exact questions to the same candidates within that job, so that you kind of avoid any kind of, you know- if you leave it completely up to the interviewer to decide what they’re going to ask, how long the interview is, you leave all of the structure of the interview up to the interviewers,

it leaves so much room for unconscious bias to sneak in. And we all have these biases. There’s not a human being probably on the planet that doesn’t have some kind of unconscious bias, right. And so we can’t stop the biases from happening, but what we can do is build systems and train people

to mitigate the impact of the bias, right? So training people to recognize when they have that knee-jerk reaction. Because it’s really easy to confuse bias with intuition, right? You’re just like, “I don’t know. They just- I just didn’t feel, I just didn’t feel safe around them.” You know?

It’s like well, is that because you have a bias against a certain group of people that you have been told is more violent? There’s all these different ways that we can mitigate it, including building systems into your processes so that you can limit as much impact of the bias as possible.

Then also training your folks so that they get in tune with themselves so they can notice when they are having these biases that may pop up. You definitely want to make sure that when you’re working with people who are working on their unconscious bias, that they are actively working on it, they’re not just paying attention to the training material or the lessons, and then just going like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sign off. Like, it’s fine. I know, I know- I have no unconscious bias.”

It’s very important to recognize that we’re all flawed human beings, right? None of us are perfect. None of us are like a hundred percent- totally. And all of us have unconscious bias and I think it’s really important what you said about distinguishing between unconscious bias and like what people think is intuition and instinct is actually unconscious bias

coming into play. And also taking the idea of wanting to have somebody who is a culture fit, right. Or somebody I want to go have a beer with. Yeah. We like to say culture add at Holistic, rather than culture fit because it’s someone that’s adding something to your organization. You’re diversifying, you want a diverse culture.

You don’t want a homogenous culture. If you have a homogenous culture, what you have is a bunch of people who most likely have similar ways of thinking about things. From a, just a business stance it’s just not an intelligent move. You want that diversity so that you can get diversity of thought so that you can get different ideas that someone else might not have picked up on.

One thing I did want to talk about just briefly too because I think it’s super important is kind of biases in the interview process in Zoom interviews or face-to-face interviews because I get a lot= when I was recruiting, there were a lot of if they had two candidates that were really close, right? And they’re like, Oh, we have to make a decision between the two, they would usually pick the person who was more charming. Which is like, it’s a wonderful, it’s a wonderful gift to be like a charming person.

You know? Like you can skate through life much more easily, but there are a lot of people who are neurodivergent in some way, they don’t come off as charming because of their neurodivergence. They might come off as stiff or cold or awkward, and it really is just because their brain chemistry is different.

They might be a perfectly wonderful candidate, but they might get skipped over because someone has- they were like, “Oh, they were weird and cold in the interview.” It’s like, well, this person is going to be working with spreadsheets. Like they’re not, it’s fine.

I feel like every interview is just me struggling against bringing up whatever hyper fixation I’m currently in the middle of. Yeah, same. Just like, I would love to have this job and I’m absolutely not weird about anything ever. I’m a totally normal person.

Yeah. You do want, you want people who are kind of like the diversity of thought. You always want to kind of expand your reach, expand what you’re doing. You don’t want to be surrounded by yes, men. Right? So if you are surrounded by 10 people who are just like you, they’re all going to think like you, and they’re all going to agree with you, right?

So sometimes you need one person in the room who’s willing to go like, no. And if there’s only one person in the room who’s going to say no, that person is going to leave the room because that room is exhausting for them. It’s important that when you’re thinking about this interview process, think about diversity of ,thought, pushing the envelope getting interesting and diverse candidates into your pipeline by challenging your unconscious bias and solely thinking about the work they’re going to be doing, right?

Like a person who does spreadsheets does not need to be charming. Right. Nice side effect? But they just need to be really good at spreadsheets, you know?

I also wanted to add, I think it’s a really important piece of this work of the kind of working on one’s own unconscious bias is to have some grace for yourself in the process. It’s really fricking hard. It’s really difficult. We’ve all been conditioned by our environment or maybe our families, our communities, and society to have these knee jerk reactions to certain people or certain groups of people, right?

And it’s really hard to undo conditioning, any kind of conditioning. It’s really difficult to undo it. Right. So if I find myself having like a knee jerk reaction and I catch it, I kind of take a moment to be like, Ooh, okay. That was weird.

What made me feel that way or think that? And then I have to take a moment and then I kind of reset with logic. I use like a piece of logic to be like, okay, well, not everyone with purple hair steals bags. So I don’t have to like clutch my purse because someone with purple hair walked past me, right. So I use some piece of logic to like kind of reset myself out of that knee-jerk reaction and usually that takes a little bit of time, which is really awkward if you’re mid conversation. It can be difficult to because then I’m like in my head now, right? I’m not even listening to the person who is talking to me because I’m in my head

because I realized I’ve had this knee-jerk unconscious bias reaction. And so often times I’ll ask someone to repeat what they’ve just said. I’m like, ” I’m sorry. Can you repeat what you just said? I spaced off” or something like that so that I know that I didn’t miss something important because it does, it does take a moment to like kind of reset that brain.

But that’s one thing that has seemed to work fairly well for me over the years, as I try and do this as I try and do this work too, because we’re all- we’re all on a journey.

Something important to remember that when you are thinking about unconscious bias, sometimes it’s rooted in personal experiences. Some of the unconscious biases that you get in life, you develop later on and it can be a little like odd to be like, well, I’ve been doing all this work, where’d this come from kind of thing. And just be like, okay this person reminds me a lot of like Stacey from the fourth grade who shoved me into a pond.

And it’s like, well, she’s not Stacy from the fourth grade. So it’s not just about race, religion and everything that society builds you up to. Sometimes it’s just about your brain just being like it’s Stacy from the fourth grade. Okay. That Stacy. She was the worst.

Thanks everybody for tuning in today. Leah and I will be most likely back at some point in the future to talk more about this kind of thing, because this is basically all we ever do. If you have any questions, comments, things that you would like to hear more about, feel free to drop us a line.

Our emails are and Thanks. Have a great day. Bye everyone.

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