3 Tips to Avoid Discrimination in Hiring

Let’s face it, we’re all biased in one way or another. It is our job as HR pros to be as objective as possible when selecting candidates and interviewing for a position, but alas, we are only human. Selecting an employee should be based on their experience alone. Here are a few ideas to help us avoid the inevitable prejudices and oversights that come with the territory of hiring.

1. Acknowledge your weaknesses.

Brett Pelham, Psychologist and Associate Professor at The University of Buffalo, conducted an eye-opening study about the power of names. Among many other things, peoples career are more likely to sound similar to their names (i.e. people with the last name Baker, are more often actually bakers,) and people frequently marry individuals who share the same first letter of their last name. If we are susceptible to such weak and seemingly insignificant details as similar names in such important choices as marriage and career, it’s not far-fetched to think those same kinds of details may influence your decision when hiring. Figure out what your weakness is when it comes to making  subjective choices for potential hires, and take it into account when making the final decision.

2. Anonymous Resumes

It may be impossible for some to do this, due to software and other procedural complications, but it is a good exercise to test yourself and those helping you decide on your bias’, if possible. One simple way to do it, would be to forward all of the resumes to someone who doesn’t have a say in the hiring process, and have them erase or cover any identifying information, that doesn’t include experience. Without a name, or any other irrelevant identifying information, every resume has a fair chance.

In France, there was an issue with people discriminating against African and Muslim applicants based on their names and locations on their resumes. A French business man named Claude Bebear attempted to combat this blatant discrimination with an anonymous resume policy and the Montaigne Institute, a Parisian research facility. The institute released a report that indicated applicants who had French sounding names and who lived in the city, were five times more likely to get a job than those who had Muslim or African sounding names and who lived on the outskirts of town. Those kinds of unfortunate findings make it evident that we must perform these kinds of exercises from time to time.

3. Structured Behavioral Interviews.

There are many reasons people institute the structured behavioral interview, and reducing bias is one of them. In a structured behavioral interview, everyone has the same chance to shine as everyone else. Everyone is asked the same questions, held to the same standard, and the subject matter is strictly job related, eliminating subjective and personal questions. The more you stick to the exact format of the interview, and have clear expectations for all of your candidates beforehand, the less likely you are to discriminate.

Despite our best efforts, discrimination is still a reality in the hiring process. Whether we prefer men, people whose names sound like ours, or people who look like us, our judgement will undoubtedly be vulnerable to personal experiences and preferences. Choosing based on our likes and dislikes as opposed to credentials, is a losing situation for everyone involved. Knowing your bias is half the battle, so keep an eye on it, and do the best you can to avoid it.


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