There's been no real change in hiring discrimination over 25 years, according to recent research. It's disappointing but perhaps not surprising information for the many people of color looking for a new job.

In a recent study, four Harvard researchers analyzed 24 field experiments related to racial discrimination in hiring conducted since 1990. In their review of 54,000 applications, they observed significantly greater callbacks for white applicants over black and Latino applicants with identical resumes.

Without callbacks for interviews, these black and Latino candidates don't get a chance to introduce themselves, share their education and experience, or describe their potential contributions. The door of opportunity never opened for them.

This is wrong and problematic on multiple levels. It's a problem for the individual candidates, of course. Those who don't receive callbacks never get a chance to demonstrate their capabilities, and they will struggle to actually land a job that they're not completely overqualified for. But it's also a problem for the company: They miss the benefits of increased diversity in the workplace. They make an ethical mistake while hurting their own financial bottom line.

What makes racism at work particularly challenging is that many white people (who also frequently  happen to be leaders and in charge of hiring) don't see purposeful discrimination, so they don't think it's a problem. "...most white Americans remain convinced that race is no longer central to one's opportunities in life. Polling data shows that many believe these lingering conflicts represent the actions of a few bad apples and aren't in sync with the larger trend toward systemic racial equality," according to the researchers of the Harvard study. But racism, both conscious and unconscious, continues to significantly impact the lives and careers of people of color.

Whether we admit it or not, we all have biases that affect our perspective when it comes to hiring. Not actively recruiting and hiring a wider range of candidates is bad for business. As a business leader or hiring manager, what can you do to reverse this trend in your company?

In an attempt to answer this question, I recently interviewed Mauricio Velasquez, the CEO of The Diversity Training Group. His Washington, DC-based firm focuses on training, consulting, and coaching organizations on how they can improve diversity, morale, and retention in their ranks by addressing issues of race, harassment, and bias in the workplace. Mauricio shared, "Our clients believe their homogenous organizations are unhealthy and they're asking the tough questions of themselves: 'Why are we getting more homogeneous when the labor force and customer marketplace is getting more diverse?'"

With that challenge in mind, here are his 6 top tips for how increasing diversity and reduce bias in your hiring process.

  1. Scrutinize your sources. Where are your applicants coming from? You can't hire people who don't apply. Reaching out to different universities or participating in job fairs in other parts of your city might help you reach a more diverse pool of candidates.
  2. Pay premium referral bonuses for diversity. Too often referral bonuses become a "friends and family plan" that perpetuate homogeneity. To overcome this pattern, lead your employees in an open conversation about who is missing from your team. Then offer higher bonuses for candidates who bring diversity of background and thought.
  3. Understand how unconscious bias impacts your hiring preferences. When hiring, you tend to hire yourself. Any candidate who reminds you of your younger self has a built-in advantage. Try to be aware of this tendency and seek out candidates who offer different viewpoints, experiences, and strengths from yourself. This will make your team more versatile, too.
  4. Create panel interviews. A diverse hiring team helps you hold yourself accountable to your commitment to hiring with an eye to diversity.
  5. Invest in hiring bias training. Training is one of the fastest, most effective ways to bring the entire organization around to your vision for a more diverse workplace. Include as many people as you can afford in the program. Diversity training is best done as a group of employees because you advance the conversation together, based on the same foundation of information.
  6. Establish a performance measure for increasing diversity. Compare your EEO-1 reports (if you're large enough to file) or keep track of changes to employee-disclosed information on race and gender. Having the numbers in black and white will help you know which strategies are working and where you need to focus improvement.

Understanding unconscious bias opens our eyes to the many ways we discriminate against, ignore, or dismiss people of color--without realizing it. In closing, Mauricio emphasized the reason that him and many of his clients tackle tough diversity challenges: "We're not doing this just to create a better workplace for women and minorities, we're doing this for everyone." Greater diversity makes for stronger, healthier, and more resilient organizations.

If you liked this column, subscribe to email alerts in the Work Life Lab and you'll never miss a post.

Published on: Nov 17, 2017