Implicit bias, also called unconscious bias, refers to the attitudes and stereotypes that unconsciously affect our behaviors and decisions. Even though everybody has implicit biases, there are a lot of ways businesses can limit implicit bias in the workplace. Ultimately creating a more diverse, inclusive, innovative, and profitable organization.
This article will give you concrete ways to limit implicit bias in the hiring process, day-to-day operations, and during evaluations. It will also provide you advice on how to get the most out of implicit bias training.
How to Limit Implicit Bias in the Hiring Process
Educate the Hiring Team about Implicit Bias
Make sure you’re getting new perspectives by reading books and articles or listening to podcasts from underrepresented communities.
Set Diversity Goals
Before starting the hiring process, make it a priority to get a diverse pool of candidates. Don’t settle for just a single female or minority candidate in the final pool because they will be highly unlikely to get hired.
Write your Job Descriptions Carefully
A University of Waterloo study found that using “masculine language” like “competitive” and “determined” makes women feel as if they don’t belong. Words like “cooperative” and “collaborative” do the opposite.
Software programs can find these gendered words so that you can either replace them with neutral words or keep a balanced ratio between masculine and feminine words.
Use a Blind System for Reading Resumes
Numerous researchers have shown that people with common Black names like Jamaal or Letisha are far less likely to get callbacks than the Gregs or Emilys of the world. Any system that blocks the names of job applicants will help you reduce unconscious bias.
Establish Objective Qualifications for Each Open Position
You need to make a list of objective criteria for each open position and rate all applicants on the same rubric. Make sure everyone involved in the hiring process is grading applicants the same way. This helps eliminate the implicit bias surrounding “culture fit” and prevents people from getting hired just because of similar backgrounds and interests as the interviewers. An insurance company offered jobs to 46% more minority applicants just by using this approach.
Establishing objective qualifications may also directly help eliminate gender bias. For example, assertiveness might be a trait you are looking for in candidates applying for a leadership position. But if you don’t put assertiveness down as a qualification, you run the risk of passing up on female candidates because our unconscious bias causes many of us to think of females as quiet and overly friendly, even if they aren’t.
Explicitly listing assertiveness as A qualification will cause you to look for it in all candidates instead of only noticing it in male candidates.
Reduce Referral Hiring if Your Firm Lacks Diversity
If you don’t have a diverse group of employees, hiring from employees’ personal networks is only going to decrease diversity. Try to reach out to women and minority organizations. For example, Google partners with historically black colleges and colleges that have a large Latinx population.
Standardize the Interviews
Numerous studies have shown that unstructured interviews are incredibly ineffective at evaluating correctly. Unstructured interviews make it difficult for you to compare applicants properly and allows your implicit bias to significantly affect your evaluations. Instead, ask every candidate the same questions.
Use Unbiased Technology To Increase Fairness During Hiring
Technology can significantly reduce bias during hiring, but it can also discriminate and make diversity problems worse. For example, a company may deploy an AI tool that develops an algorithm to predict success at the company. However, if most successful employees at that company are white and male, the AI will use that data and will likely show bias against minority and female candidates. Companies need to test new technologies for bias before implementation and then review results after implementation.
One example of unbiased technology is pymetrics. Pymetrics modified well-researched behavioral science assessments into games that measure cognitive, social, and emotional traits. Pymetrics is built to take in demographic data and de-weight or remove certain data points that are causing a difference between demographic groups, so it automatically checks itself for bias.
Another example of unbiased technology is Applied. Applied evaluates candidates on responses to work-based scenarios instead of resumes, anonymizes the responses, and removes distractors that might bias the evaluations.
Focus on Skill-Based Questions in the Interview
Give candidates hypothetical problems or scenarios that would come up on the job and ask them how they would solve them. To test hard skills like knowledge of Excel don’t ask the candidate if they are comfortable using excel. Give them a dataset and ask them to do something with it.
Score Likability if it Matters to You
If the likability of an applicant matter to you, make sure you numerically score applicants on likability. Otherwise, it will play a disproportionately large role in your evaluations.
Grade Candidates’ Responses in Real-Time
If you wait until after the interview, your implicit bias could skew your judgment. You will also favor candidates with better storytelling abilities because that will be what you remember the most.
When you go back to review applicants’ responses, make sure you compare all candidates’ responses to question 1, and then all responses to question 2, and so on. That way an especially good or bad answer to question 1 won’t influence the rest of your evaluation.
Simultaneous Evaluation Processes
Instead of hiring one salesperson in the fall, another in the winter, and another in the summer, hire all three salespeople at the same time. Hiring the salespeople one by one correlates to more bias.
How to Limit Implicit Bias for Day-to-Day Operations in the Workplace
Establish a Rotation for Workplace Housework and Don’t Ask for Volunteers
Women report doing 20% more menial or undervalued tasks than men with the same job titles, such as cleaning up after a meeting, doing administrative chores, or mentoring summer interns. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be assigned to leadership roles or other important projects that lead to networking opportunities or high praise. Establishing a rotation for office housework will guarantee that both men and women contribute equally to undervalued, but necessary, tasks. Make sure you don’t ask for volunteers because women are more likely to feel obligated to volunteer in order to show everyone they’re “team players”.
Give People Opportunities to do Important Work
It’s tempting to only trust a small circle for important work, but your unconscious bias may be preventing you from letting other employees, especially those from underrepresented groups, shine. This will not be easy and may require you to go outside your comfort zone but could go a long way toward promoting inclusion.
Value Diversity and Inclusion Efforts and Organization of Programming
Company leaders will often say they prioritize workplace diversity and inclusion but not value an employee’s successful implementation of a women’s initiative or superb diversity mentoring skills. Make sure you consider these things when the time comes to give promotions or raises.
Call out your Employees for Double Standards, Stereotyping, “Manterruption”, “Mansplaining” and Inappropriate Behavior
“Manterruption” is when men interrupt women at meetings or other important conversations. Men interrupt women far more often than the other way out, so call them out when it happens. Also, make sure that male employees or a small group of employees don’t dominate the conservation at meetings.
Ask people who are being drowned out or silent to share their thoughts. This is especially critical for Asians, women, and first-gen professionals, who often say they feel pressured to be quiet and hold back their opinions. In addition, call out men when they take credit for women and POC’s ideas.
Pay Attention to When and Where you are Scheduling your Meetings
Don’t schedule meetings at a golf club or concert venue. You might accidentally give an advantage to employees who feel comfortable in these locations and have similar interests as you. Try to keep your meetings during working hours, or else you’re putting working parents at a disadvantage. Keeping meetings in the workplace during working hours can go a long way toward promoting inclusivity and making your employees feel comfortable.
Reach out to All Members of your Team
If you are a white man, it’s likely that other white male employees or employees that have similar interests as you will be more comfortable walking into your office. Make sure that you are getting facetime with all employees.
How To Limit Implicit Bias during Evaluations
Establish Evaluation Criteria
As in the interview, standardize a set of evaluation criteria. Make sure you’re using facts and data in your evaluation.
Don’t Include a Potential Assessment with a Performance Assessment
If you need to evaluate potential and personality, make these categories separate from performance and skills. Underrepresented groups are often evaluated solely on their performance, while majority groups often get a “pass” based on their potential. Don’t let this bias factor into the evaluation.
A similar bias exists in personality. For example, assertiveness is more likely to be seen as a negative trait in women and people of color but a positive one in men.
Encourage Women and Minority Groups to Advocate for Themselves or do Self-Evaluations
Women and some people of color often feel obligated to be modest to fit in with the rest of the group. White men, on the other hand, tend to be overconfident. Self-evaluations will give everybody a chance to advocate for themselves and use facts and data to do so.
Be Transparent on How Training, Promotions, and Pay Decisions are Made
Harvard Business Review writes about a lawyer who developed a list of criteria for promotion and then grouped employees into 3 categories: green (deserving promotion), yellow (close to promotion), and red (no promotion).
She also anonymized the employees so that she was only using their objective skills and performance when grouping them.
How to Make Workplace Implicit Bias Training Better
Many companies use implicit bias training as a tool to increase diversity and inclusion. However, some academic researchers have found that implicit bias training is ineffective at increasing the number of employees from underrepresented backgrounds.
Talking about unconscious bias can even backfire and cause employees to discriminate more if done incorrectly. Prof. Michelle Duguid of Washington University and Prof. Melissa Thomas Hunt of the University of Virginia conducted numerous studies to determine if increasing awareness of unconscious bias would decrease it.
In one of these studies, they told some participants that most people use stereotypes and others that most people don’t use stereotypes. After being tested on their perceptions of women, those who were told that most people stereotype ended up rating women as significantly less career-oriented and more family-oriented. This result didn’t change even when the professors told them to “try to avoid thinking about others in such a manner”.
In another experiment, the professors told some managers that most people stereotype and other managers that most people don’t stereotype and asked the managers to read a transcript of a job interview with the candidate identified as male or female. At the end of the transcript, the candidate requested a raise and a nonstandard bonus. The managers that were told most people stereotype were 28 percent less likely to hire the female candidate and saw the female candidate considerably less likable than the managers who were told most people don’t stereotype.
How is this possible?
How could raising awareness of stereotyping and bias negatively affect peoples’ behavior?
Consider a study from Prof. Cialdini at Arizona State University. Cialdini’s team attempted to stop stealing petrified wood from a national park by putting out a sign that said “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the state of the Petrified Forest.” This sign didn’t change theft rates so they changed it to “Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.”
After they put this sign-out, theft rates increased from 5 percent to 8 percent, instead of decreasing! It turns out people were getting the message that “stealing petrified wood is socially acceptable because it happens frequently” instead of the intended message of “Don’t steal petrified wood”.
The same phenomenon applies to implicit bias training. People are getting the message that “using stereotypes and changing our behavior is socially acceptable because everybody has bias” instead of the intended message that “we need to question our decisions and change our behavior because of bias”. However, Professor Duguid and Professor Thomas-Hunt found success when they changed their approach and told managers that “a vast majority of people try to overcome their stereotypic preconceptions.” After hearing this statement, managers were 28 percent more interested in working with a female candidate who negotiated effectively and found her 25 percent more likable.
In summary, implicit bias training can be effective with the right content, length, audience, and the implementation of other diversity initiatives. While implicit bias training is unlikely to quickly raise the number of minority, female, or LGBTQ+ employees, it can motivate employees to actively seek new behaviors.
Google found that Google employees in live implicit bias workshops leave the workshops with a better understanding of implicit bias and increased motivation to change their behavior to reduce implicit bias compared to employees who watched an implicit bias video or didn’t get implicit bias training.
Harvard Business Review reported that 96% of employees leaving unconscious bias training committed to changing their behaviors to limit unconscious bias. They also found that most of these employees reported engaging in the unconscious bias-reducing behaviors described in the workshops as far as eight months after the workshop.
Having your employees commit to reducing implicit bias in the long-term has numerous, positive implications, such as improving larger, organizational efforts. For example, Harvard Business Review found that if employees aren’t educated on the positive effects of a new interview process intended to limit unconscious bias, the interview process is much less likely to be adopted.
Here are some guidelines on creating an implicit bias training program that gets long-term behavioral change from your employees.
Balance Reducing Defensiveness While Emphasizing Managing Implicit Bias
Unconscious bias and diversity training cause many majority group members to be defensive, which can make training less effective. Any unconscious bias training must explain that everybody has implicit biases. Humans have evolved to categorize and make judgments and patterns quickly in order to process the massive amount of stimuli we are exposed to every day. But our quick judgments and pattern recognition reinforce our bias, and then we carry that bias into every decision we make. The goal of implicit bias training is to limit this bias in our decisions and behaviors.
When explaining this phenomenon, make sure to not give the impression that “unconscious bias is okay because we all do this”, which could actually increase bias, as described earlier in this section. Deliver the message that “most people don’t want to discriminate and neither should you” and demonstrate that there are benefits to not letting their implicit bias influence their behaviors and decisions.
Focus Training Material on Workplace Situations
A lot of implicit bias training uses psychological concepts to explain implicit bias. However, your employees will remember bias training much better if it is centered around workplace situations since people remember new concepts much better if those concepts are linked to what they already know.
Make Bias Training Action-Oriented
Implicit bias training must teach employees strategies to reduce implicit bias instead of just raising awareness. Share some of the strategies mentioned earlier in this article, such as clearly defining qualifications and expectations when interviewing candidates and evaluating employees.