Culture

Fixing Unconscious Bias with Processes that Change Behavior

Yvonne Chen

Head of Marketing, Udemy for Business

Blog

  

Culture

March 29, 2017

We have been talking about diversity and inclusion in the workplace for many decades, but overall behavior hasn’t changed. Today well-known tech companies still only include less than 5% of African-American or Hispanic employees in their workforce. And women still hold a mere 14% of top CEO jobs. We have to get better.

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We hosted a People Innovators event in San Francisco last Thursday on Addressing Unconscious Bias through Learning. Our panelists of Diversity & Inclusion and HR leaders discussed the next wave of Unconscious Bias—Unconscious Bias 2.0. The first wave created awareness through unconscious bias training, but changing human behavior isn’t easy and will require formal institutional support as well. The second step is what we’ll refer to as Unconscious 2.0. To address this, we need to build the processes, guidelines, and systems within organizations to correct for bias through reinforced behavior change.

Our panel shared some of the ways they are reforming organizational processes to eliminate bias and ultimately create more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Make your recruitment process bias-free

Research has shown that the recruitment process itself has a built-in bias—from the kinds of words on a job description posting to a person’s name on a resume. Many leaders are taking advantage of new software that scans job descriptions for language that might discourage women or underrepresented candidates from applying in the first place. Companies are also starting to implement a blind resume screening process to reduce the possibility of unconscious bias as it relates to people’s names.

However, it’s not just the recruiter’s responsibility to increase diversity, hiring managers must also be held accountable. Hiring managers are the people in the room making the final decision on whether a certain candidate is going to move forward or get a full-time offer. This is why they must be given diversity targets and held responsible for meeting these goals. It’s also a reason why HR leaders must do a better job calling out hiring managers if there’s any kind of bias in the job description.

“You really have to push back on the hiring manager. I often ask: do we really want to say that we require 10 years of experience and a degree from a top school? What if candidates, through no fault of their own, weren’t privileged enough to go to a top Computer Science university? How about testing their actual ability to work together as a team during the interview process rather than relying only on the degree?” shared Jill Witty, VP of People & Talent Operations at Entelo.

Hire for cultural add, not cultural fit

Organizations are also starting to revamp their interview process by ensuring the interview loop has a diverse group of employees, set interview questions with shared criteria, and reframing the infamous “cultural fit” question to gauge whether a candidate is a “culture add” instead.

Hiring for cultural fit is common practice at organizations. Although it makes sense to ensure a candidate fits with your company’s values, unfortunately, hiring people that “fit” often ends up resulting in exercising an unconscious bias that ultimately excludes people that are “different.” Instead, to improve diversity and inclusion numbers, we shouldn’t look for people like ourselves and clone what’s already on the team, but look for individuals that bring a different skill set and perspective.

“We are beginning to realize we should hire for people that are ‘culture adds,’ not ‘culture fits’ if we’re really going to make a difference in diversity. We want people that can enrich our company in new ways,” explains Kelly Buchanan, VP of People at Revinate. “In addition, to avoid ‘groupthink’ during the interview process, we encourage employees to not talk to each other about a candidate until they’ve each filled out their individual candidate evaluations.”

At Pinterest, they keep ‘small talk’ at a minimum and engage in it only at the end of the interview because the ‘small talk’ is where unconscious bias can creep in when asking questions like ‘where did you grow up?’ or ‘who is your favorite sports team?’ These kinds of conversations center on what the interviewee and candidate have in common (like the same neighborhood, school, culture, or interests) instead of focusing on the skills that the candidate brings to the role.

Measure to identify patterns of bias

While it may be difficult to measure something as qualitative as unconscious bias, it’s not impossible. Measure your promotion and compensation rate by gender and race so you have a baseline of understanding on how you’re doing on diversity hiring and how you can improve. If you see two people in the same role who aren’t getting paid the same amount, reevaluate your compensation practices to ensure fairness. Check in with your employees and ask them: “Do you feel included?” This is a question you can revisit and track to see how you’re doing on diversity and inclusion over a period of time.

“We regularly ask our people, do you feel like you belong at Pinterest? It’s the number one predictor of employee retention and engagement. We track women and underrepresented groups to take the pulse on whether they feel like they belong in our culture,” said Candice Morgan, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Pinterest.

“We also look at who are getting the hot jobs in the company. For example, if most of these jobs are being filled by people from the same school, race or gender, then we need to stop and say wait a minute, how relevant is that as an indicator of top performance? That’s the next thing we want to crack in our inclusiveness goals.”

Organizations have come a long way and still have a way to go on addressing unconscious bias. But many have taken the first critical step of creating awareness in the workforce. Now the next challenge will be building the processes to really change behavior and impact actual diversity metrics.

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