It's almost impossible to find a major corporation today that does not have some kind of diversity initiative in place. In particular, the tech industry has faced widespread criticism for its predominantly and disproportionately male, white and Asian workforce. The controversy has sparked a strong corporate response with leading companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Facebook and Google announcing their commitment to hiring more women, minorities, veterans and older employees.
There are significant business advantages to diversity in the workplace. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review reports organizations that have a more diverse and inclusive workforce tend to be more innovative and experience greater market growth than companies that do not embrace such a philosophy. Yet, despite a multitude of corporate initiatives, gender and race inequality, as well as ageism, remain major issues in the workplace.
Within the tech industry, many have speculated that the problem is a leaky pipeline; fewer girls in STEM programs translates into less women in the tech workforce. But with recent studies finding girls are taking high-level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, it's hard to write this off as a single cause issue.
An overlooked and fundamental problem, however, may lie within the psychological process of recruitment and hiring, stemming less from overt bigotry and more from unconscious biases that shape our view of the world.
Unconscious bias is an innate human characteristic; even the most open-minded and well-meaning individuals unwittingly allow unconscious feelings to guide their decision-making. In other words, the most sincere corporate commitment to inclusion and diversity may be derailed by biases that employers and hiring managers don't even realize they have.
Symphony orchestras, for example, had long been dominated by white men before blind audition policies were implemented in the 1970s to counteract unconscious biases. Research found that blind audition measures, such as setting up a screen to conceal the appearance of a candidate from a jury, increased the likelihood that a woman would be selected by between 25 and 46 percent.
The transformative impact of blind symphony auditions is evidence that the psychological pitfalls of unconscious biases must be acknowledged and counteracted for diversity programs to be effective. Here are six actions employers can take to make their recruitment efforts more neutral by removing both unconscious and hidden biases:
1. Use gender-neutral, inclusive language in job descriptions and/or questionnaires.
This could involve removing the option to add salutations such as "Mr.," "Miss," or "Mrs." from any written materials a candidate must submit in order to be considered for a position. Fortunately, technology is making it easier than ever before to correct unconscious biases and improve diversity levels. Textio is a web-based tool that uses statistics and machine learning capabilities to analyze the text of a job posting and identify patterns. It then predicts the performance of a particular ad by identifying problematic or biased phrases, which have been shown to discourage potential applicants.
In addition, research has found that certain terms skewed towards male stereotypes can send unintentional messages in job listings and discourage potential candidates. For example, Unitive's research suggests that phrases such as "hierarchal,"" dominate," and "boastful" turn off would-be female candidates from applying to job listings.
And for employers who think they may be free of unconscious prejudice, Harvard's free online Implicit Association Tests can increase self-awareness by uncovering biases test takers are unknowingly hiding from themselves.
2. Review visa sponsorship policies.
Gendered language is not the only deterrent for worthy applicants; it is important to note that your company's policies around visa sponsorships may affect your ability to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds. Enterprises should work with both an immigration company and their HR department to avoid artificially limiting the candidate pool by discriminating against candidates who might need H1B transfers or Green Cards in the future.
3. Introduce structured interviews.
At a glance, the flexible framework and conversational flow of unstructured interviews might seem attractive to many employers. However, this type of interview is often extremely subjective, which reduces accuracy and invites legal challenges.
While unstructured interviews tend to flow like a conversation, structured interviews ensure that a list of specific questions are asked in exactly the same way to each candidate. A structured interview consists of a previously agreed upon list of questions that guarantees each candidate interviewing for the same position will be presented with exactly the same questions in exactly the same order as previous candidates.
Perhaps most importantly, structured interviews have been shown to be almost twice as effective at predicting an employee's performance once they've been hired. A study incorporating 85 years of research found that while structured interview responses could explain 26 percent of an employee's performance on the job, unstructured interviews could explain a mere 14 percent of an employee's future performance.
4. Create consistent interview scorecards.
Structured interviews help, but objectivity in the interview process is not achieved simply by ensuring that each candidate is asked identical questions. An interviewer's perception and evaluation of each candidate's answers can be clouded by unconscious prejudice. Before conducting structured interviews, employers should identify acceptable responses to their set list of questions to ensure that candidates' responses are comparable.
An interview scorecard is an objective method of evaluation in which candidates' responses are measured by a well-defined five-point scale or with a letter-grade. Doing so provides a quantifiable record that shows a candidate was given equal and fair consideration, and that any decision not to hire them was done so based on their specific qualifications.
Companies can weight the score for each answer based on company values, so that employees are hired for their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
5. Have a candidate submit work samples or partake in a skill test.
Asking a candidate to complete an assignment similar to those they'll be responsible for in the future is essential to the interview process. Researchers have found that realistic work sample tests are the most accurate predictor of how a candidate will perform on the job - predicting 29 percent of an employee's performance. A skill test also forces employers to critique the quality of a candidate's work versus unconsciously judging them based on appearance, gender, age and even personality.
6. Set diversity goals.
In addition to the tips listed above, it is important for organizations to set specific diversity goals. At the end of every quarter, you should track how well you've done against those goals. This will in turn encourage your employees to keep diversity and equality top of mind. Companies including Pinterest and Twitter have publicly shared measurable hiring goals for 2016 to stay accountable.
Given the tech industry's record for disruption and ability to transform quickly, it offers a glimmer of hope that more companies and industries at large will follow suit in creating effective tactics to counteract unconscious biases.