As an HR leader in the technology sector, Whitney Bennett has been able to apply her personal experience as a female leader in shaping company policies. Her tips on reducing bias in hiring are rooted in this blend of HR knowledge and first-hand experience.
HRPS: What parts of the hiring process are most likely to show bias? Where is bias less likely to show up?
Bennett: I see the hiring “process” as five key steps. Each step can allow for bias, but some are more difficult to overcome. The five steps are as follows:
Step 1: Identify the Hiring Need
Bias can translate into the words chosen for a job description. In my experience, bias is less likely at this stage than later steps in the process. However, it’s still important for companies to craft job descriptions that encourage applications from talented, diverse candidates. Women tend to apply for jobs when they feel they meet 100 percent of the qualifications, while men feel comfortable applying if they meet 60 percent. With this in mind, companies should avoid a lengthy qualifications list, which has the potential to deter women from applying. You can do this by differentiating between the essential skills and preferred or “bonus” skills instead of combining them all into one list.
Step 2: Create a Strategy to Find Candidates
Bias is very likely at this stage, as most companies, managers and recruiters utilize very few avenues for finding candidates. Traditional methods include LinkedIn, networking events and referrals. While there’s nothing wrong with using these methods, a narrow search means you’re missing out on a wider range of candidates with diverse backgrounds. While this bias seems unintentional, it is an issue. Getting creative with your search strategy means you’ll widen the pool, increasing your chances of receiving applications from diverse candidates.
Steps 3 and 4: Identifying the Viable Candidates and Screening
Bias is very likely at these stages. Once a list of viable candidates has been made, bias starts to creep in. Those reviewing the list may or may not notice this taking place, which is why it’s essential for interviewers to receive bias training.
Screening candidates usually takes place over the phone or through on-site and video interviews. Bias can take place in any of these methods, but is most likely to occur during on-site and video interviews when a candidate’s appearance or first impression may influence the rest of the interview.
Step 5: Offer
The recruitment process is only the beginning of a successful diversity plan. After a candidate receives an offer and officially becomes an employee, your culture comes into play in truly helping them feel at home at your organization. If you don’t have an inclusive culture, you can’t expect diverse employees to stay for long.
HRPS: Is bias against women worse in the tech industry than in other industries? Are there industries that are particularly biased or ones doing well to conquer bias?
Bennett: Based on current studies, bias against women is most prevalent within the oil, mining and manufacturing industries. That said, bias remains a major issue in the male-dominated tech industry. In fact, women occupy only 20 percent of U.S. tech jobs, and a dismal 5 percent of tech leadership positions. Because of this, it’s important for tech hiring managers and the C-suite to pay close attention to who is at the executive level.
If leadership remains predominately male, not all employees are being represented. It’s crucial that company leaders reflect the diversity they want mirrored throughout the organization. Despite these obstacles to improving diversity and inclusion, the tech industry is heading in the right direction. There are a lot of individuals and companies paving the way through organizations, conferences and meetups focused on celebrating diversity in tech, and companies are even setting diversity goals to ensure progress.
Facebook announced in July 2019 a bold plan to double the number of women within its workforce over the next five years, including a key objective of increasing the number of women and minorities in its global ranks from 43 percent to 50 percent. As the industry works to become more inclusive, tech leaders need to hold themselves accountable for not only saying they want more diversity, but more importantly, putting initiatives in place to do so.
HRPS: How can companies and talent managers reduce bias in the process?
Bennett: Reducing bias in the hiring process starts from the top. Executives need to be invested in diversity and inclusion initiatives before true progress can be made. This starts with weekly meetings between the C-suite and talent managers to discuss challenges they’re facing, what candidates are in the pipeline and how they can fill current gaps in the company. Removing bias will only be successful if company leadership is on board with creating a diverse and inclusive environment, and if leaders support the training and programs necessary to implement a fair hiring process.
Next, create awareness internally about this issue and write diversity goals to keep top-of-mind throughout the hiring process. Make sure recruiters and interviewers receive training on the types of unconscious bias that can occur during each stage, especially during interviews. Lastly, standardize the interview process so that each candidate goes through the same review as this will ensure each applicant receives fair treatment. For example, it’s important to ensure some applicants aren’t able to skip parts of the process based on connections they might have at the organization.
HRPS: Is the increase in AI in the hiring process going to help or hurt underrepresented groups?
Bennett: AI in the hiring process has the potential to do both, but I believe it will hurt more than help underrepresented groups. The human touch, or review, is essential in the hiring process if that person has been trained on how to identify and overcome bias.
HRPS: What should top executives know about reducing bias in their talent processes? Can bias be reduced at the strategic level?
Bennett: Executives should know bias in the talent process can be reduced at a strategic level if it’s called out and made a focus. I think it's a leader’s job to build a culture that reduces bias—that includes fostering a culture of open and candid collaboration and making sure there are different voices in the room when making decisions or discussing new ideas. Reducing bias in hiring requires a strong HR team that has the proper resources to implement training and a standardized procedure. We will always hire the best person for the job, and it’s our responsibility in the recruiting process to present a diverse range of candidates. However, support from leadership is essential for reducing bias beyond recruiting as executives have a responsibility to model the values they want reflected throughout the organization. Executives need to understand and recognize their own bias and be thoughtful about not letting that affect their decisions.