Everyone relies on implicit bias as they move through life. Implicit biases are shortcuts our brain takes to make snap judgments about people and situations. It’s implicit because we are usually unaware that we are filtering thoughts, attitudes, and choices through lived experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions. Our unconscious filtering system is shaped by ideas we collect around race, gender, appearance, social status, geography, cultural background, religion, sexual orientation, marital or family status, age. Even hobbies, politics, schools attended, and factors sieve our decisions.
Eliminating implicit bias is essential to creating a hiring process and workplace that encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion. Weeding out embedded predispositions begins by raising our awareness and sensitivity to them. Here are 3 bias types that often creep into the hiring process, whether screening, meeting, evaluating, or comparing job candidates.
Have you ever said something like, “This candidate reminded me of me when I was just starting my career.” Or maybe, “He played on the college hockey team too.” Perhaps they were an honor student like you or reminded you of your brother. Their personality is an exact match to the rest of your team. These are all examples of affinity bias – it’s looking for similarities between the candidate, yourself, and your squad. And while it may seem harmless – because maybe your hiring for ‘cultural fit’ – this can be a pitfall when trying to diversify your team. Rewarding candidates for uniformity is not the goal.
Have you ever said something like, “He graduated from an Ivy League school. He is clearly a top performer.” This kind of statement sets an opinion or belief about someone, and from that point forward, you will look for proof that confirms this established notion. Conversely, you will reject out of hand any information that contradicts it. Unconsciously, you are on the hunt for evidence of what you already believe. You see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear. It impacts the kind of questions you may ask the job candidate. Or the work samples you might require (or not at all because you don’t need to assess their competency versus another candidate). It influences your evaluation of their performance during the interview process. You sealed their fate and are just seeking corroborating evidence.
Halo or Horn Bias
Have you ever said something like, “She comes highly recommended by one of our best employees – so you know she’s going to be a rock star.” What about something like, “She interned at Google – what else do I need to know?” Or maybe “Yeah, his skillset could not be more of a great match, but it bothers me that he’s moved from job to job in the last few years.” What about that candidate whose limp handshake you couldn’t get passed? Halo effects brighten our judgment of someone, while the Horn effects cloud it. If a candidate is good or bad when it comes to a set of parameters, it colors every interaction we have in the same way. Rainbows or rain, and nothing in between your subjective decision.
So, what should a hiring manager who wants to do better do? When increasing awareness of bias creep in, ask yourself questions like: why do I hold this judgment? Am I basing decisions on personal assumptions or verifiable proof? Am I comparing all candidates using the same rubric? Am I asking everyone the same questions? Do I see the complete picture? Am I ignoring red flags with my preferred candidate that I’m noticing with others?
As you practice becoming more self-aware, slow down, step back, seek out alternative and objective points of view. You may be surprised how easy it is to be lulled into the comfort of biased decision making.
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