What’s Wrong with Bias? It Got Us This Far, Didn’t It?

Neil HartleyRecruitmentLeave a Comment

statue of a blindfolded woman holding a set of weighing scales

My name is Neil and I’ve been biased in my hiring decisions throughout my career.

If we are honest, though, we are all biased and apply (or are subjected to) the principles of influence in pretty much everything we do on a daily basis.

My mea culpa? I was fully conscious of my bias.

In a nutshell, the principles of influence (the psychology of persuasion) are shortcuts.

We develop mental shortcuts because we are bombarded with so much information, so many choices, so much stuff in our everyday lives that we have to use them to make decisions.

When we’re looking to hire someone, organizations should cast the net as wide as possible to maximize the talent pool available, but that could mean having to deal with an unmanageable volume of applicants.

So, we apply a shortcut.

That may be done by increasing the educational requirements on the job posting, only considering people from certain universities, or demanding a higher level of vocational experience. The most ridiculous example I’ve seen was removing people with a last name after the letter M.

My shortcut? I hired women for sales roles.

Why? Working in the testosterone-fuelled world of sales, I figured that women were better “pound-for-pound” salespeople than men. Women had to fight harder to get to the level they were at and were just better than their male counterparts.

It was a positive bias for women, but a bias nonetheless.

But who did I miss out on hiring? I’ll never know because I never looked.

What will you miss by stipulating degree qualifications in your job posting? Or by requesting X years of achievement in your specific field? Who is out there that you’re overlooking by applying those shortcuts to your recruitment process?

Of course, I’m referring to conscious bias in my own mea culpa but there is also the massive issue of unconscious bias to deal with.

So, why should you care and what can we do about it?

Why should we care? Over and above the nobility of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion cause, diverse companies perform better:

“Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

“Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians (exhibit).”

Source: Diversity Matters: McKinsey & Company.

The Velvet Curtain

What can we do about it?  Use a velvet curtain – in the 1960s and 1970s large city orchestras struggled in their goals to hire more women musicians. Even with good intentions the number of women being hired was low. That changed dramatically when orchestras started holding auditions behind a velvet (other materials are available) curtain. Eventually, women grew to outnumber the men in the St. Louis orchestra.

They effectively prevented bias being a factor in their selection process and simply went with the playing skills of each candidate.

Where does that leave us? It points to skills-based hiring where skills can be assessed in volume and where bias is not applied in the process to narrow down from a large candidate list to a shortlist for an interview.

This is what we do at The Pathfinder Company. For roles requiring individuals to have Pathfinder attributes, the Pathfinder assessment gauges applicants for their suitability in the role. This then provides the velvet curtain that removes the potential for bias while delivering the automation that enables the initial talent pool to be as wide as possible.

Some remain skeptical about skills-based hiring. However, many have found this tool enables a wide talent pool and removes bias as part of the initial selection process. Applied appropriately, it surely affords a significant step forward for DEI as well as in the performance of the business.

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