Research by Professors Judd Kessler and Corinne Low indicates that employers continue to show bias against BIPOC candidates, in spite of affirmations about wanting to hire more BIPOC candidates.[1] In that study of 72 employers, 90% continued to rate lower the credentials in resumes of BIPOC candidates, while rating the same credentials higher in whites and men.  Clearly, this matter of implicit bias has not been eradicated.  The question then is, what can be done to offset this continuing prejudice, especially when so much training on implicit bias has been shown to have little effect on behavior.

It is widely understood that it is much easier to change human behavior than it is to change beliefs.  With that in mind, I have seen leaders mitigate unconscious bias by focusing on behaviors rather than on beliefs or attitudes.  In this case, the behaviors required are those that will ensure that BIPOC employees enjoy the same career success as whites do.  Rather than expend time and energy on urging or imploring managers to act without bias, it is more effective to focus on the results that managers actually produce.  It is an approach that is much higher-leverage.  By examining what managers do or fail to do, leaders can impact the entire organization.  If manager know that they must achieve certain goals or meet certain standards in order to advance their careers, the ambitious ones will do what needs to be done to meet those requirements.  Those who do not meet the requirements can be weeded out using objective measures.

In order to manage anything, we need to be very knowledgeable about the process we are managing.  In addition to knowing the system in detail, we also need to monitor certain key points in the system that have the possibility of impacting other parts of the system “further downstream.”    In terms of mitigating unconscious bias, leaders can institute a system that tracks how every management practice performs.  In this case, the desired performance is equity in the way BIPOC employees are treated.  In turn, equity means that the career track of BIPOC employees matches that of white employees.  Each of these management systems (hiring, evaluating, promoting, assigning jobs, and rewarding) requires, at some point in the process,  discretionary judgement on the part of those administering them.  For instance, job recruiters have to decide where and how to advertise the position.  Do these recruiters have the contacts across BIPOC communities so that the advertisement reaches all racial groups in equal measure?  Do the recruiters know these communities well enough to know which are the best vehicles through which to disseminate the information about the job position?

In a similar vein, managers use their discretionary judgment when they delegate various tasks to their subordinates.  Whom they choose for the most visible or desired assignments is often a function of whom they trust or whom they like.  If managers are uncomfortable with workers who do not conform to white cultural norms, they will choose people who they can trust to abide by those norms.  Without a system that tracks the racial pattern of their assignments, there is no way to interrupt a pattern where a manager fails to give desirable assignments to racially different workers in the company.

What follows is an example of how bias has occurred in a hiring process.   Listed below are the way bias was found at different stages in the process.

 

Examples of Bias in the Hiring Process

I. Create Job Descriptions:

  • There is an implicit profile of who is successful in this role. Whites may not realize the extent to which a job description is skewed toward a profile that is keyed to whites cultural norms of behavior and style.

II. Advertise Position In-House:

  • Not all members of the organization have equal knowledge of openings in the position, or access to where the job-opening notice is published in-house.

  • Whites in charge of advertising have limited connection to informal networks of more racially diverse candidates within the organization

III. Advertise Position Externally in Formal Media:

  • Organizational leaders and decision maker(s) have limited knowledge about media that reaches different racial communities.

  • Decision makers have little, or dated, information about the organization’s reputation among different racial groups.

IV. Advertise Position Externally via Formal Contacts

  • Staff members in charge of advertising are not aware of networks used by candidates from other racial groups.

  • Decision makers have limited contacts with networks of other racial groups

  • Decision makers are not aware how the organization is currently viewed by candidates from other racial groups.

V. Advertise Position Externally via Informal Contacts

  • Staff members in charge of advertising are not aware of networks used by candidates from other racial groups.

  • Decision makers have limited contacts with networks of other racial groups

  • Decision makers are not aware how the organization is currently viewed by candidates from other racial groups.

VI. Screen Resumes

  • White personnel are unaware of their subtle attitudes and assumptions toward other racial groups (e.g., “These candidates wouldn’t want to move here.” ).

  • There is p an implicit profile of who is successful in this role. Whites may not realize the extent to which that profile is skewed toward the white cultural norms.

  • There is limited institutional memory about different approaches to handling the role, beyond that of an approach that fits white cultural norms.

VII. Conduct Interviews and Make Hiring Decision

  • An interview panel that is made of solely of members from one or two racial groups will tend to view candidates through one or two cultural lenses. The interview team will default to selecting candidates with whom they feel “comfortable,”  e., those whose style of speaking and acting most fits the cultural norms of the interview panel members.

 VIII. On-Board and Orient New Hire

  • White HR and recruiting staff have limited experience, or comfort, in forming mutually satisfying work relationships with members of other racial groups.

  • Whites are unaware of company norms that are incompatible with the cultural norms of the new hire.

  • The current members have little or no experience working with people of other races.

  • The manager of the new hire does little or nothing to require current employees to support and assist the new hire.

Once leaders are aware of how these forms of bias can occur, they require HR and the hiring department to submit regular reports that describe the extent to which there is evidence of these biases.   When such evidence exists, managers of those units are instructed to make necessary changes so that the outcomes, at each step in the process, show equity among all races in the workforce.

Without having these comparisons, it is not possible for corporate leaders to calibrate the degree to which bias is occurring in any one practice.  This kind of data system allows leaders to identify the departments where bias is not occurring as well as the departments where bias is present.  This kind of hard data enables leaders to hold managers accountable for their actions.  If leaders are consistent in rewarding managers who demonstrate little or no bias, word will get out that acting in this way is essential for the career advancement of managers.

[1] https://www.amestrib.com/story/opinion/columns/2020/07/27/judd-b-kessler-and-corinne-low-it-will-take-lot-more-than-diversity-training-to-end-racial-bias-in-h/42090487/.  “It will take a lot more than diversity training to eliminate racial bias in hiring.” July 27, 2020