Diversity & Inclusion

To Be Truly Diverse, Companies Must Remove Unconscious Bias

In the past month, we have seen companies make statements on social media supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests over racial inequity around the nation.

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Source: CLS Digital Arts / shutterstock

While these statements may be nice to say or hear, action must follow words if businesses truly want to live up to them. And that involves the hiring, development, and advancement of employees of all races, orientations, and genders. When companies lack diversity, it’s often due to an unconscious bias present during these processes.

Develop Clear Benchmarks

It starts with recruiting and hiring. If a company is unclear on the benchmarks of the position and what skills a candidate must possess to be successful, it tends to make decisions based on what is most comfortable for the hiring committee rather than what skills are best for the position.

Instead, companies should develop a clear understanding of what benchmarks are needed for the role based on skills and the key accountabilities the role presents. Benchmarks should include behaviors, motivators, competencies, and the emotional intelligence the job requires. This can be done by developing targeted questions for recruiters to identify candidates who align with these requirements.

During the hiring process, most companies use a loosely structured, conversational approach during interviews—a process that can be highly susceptible to interviewer bias. This often involves employers setting arbitrary standards for interviewee performance, making superficial evaluations, and failing to consider unbiased data.

For example, extroverted people who are more comfortable speaking in front of others often make a more positive interview impression than those without that skill. But in reality, interview performance rarely correlates with job performance.

Other ancillary factors include what school someone attended, shared backgrounds, similar dress and appearance, or the ever-so-common “I just like them” reasoning. All of this perpetuates the cycle of hiring people who look, sound, and think similarly to those who are making talent-related decisions.

Use Data-Driven Assessment Tools

The best way to remove this bias is for employers to use data-driven assessment tools to help them select the best candidate based on skill. These tools are designed to help employers make decisions based on the benchmarks they established rather than a gut feeling. Consider assessment tools  that focus on the life cycle of an employee, not just the recruiting or hiring stages.

Unconscious bias does not end with the hiring of a new employee. We see this bias throughout the employment life cycle, especially for employees of color, women, or those identifying as LGBTQ+. Diverse employees are less likely to advance within the company because management cannot envision them as leaders. These employees are often passed over for a position by someone with less experience and skill who looks, behaves, or thinks similarly to those who make the decisions.

Once an employee is hired, organizations must provide development opportunities for the individual that include coaching and leadership training based on assessment data. The result is a customized, unbiased development plan to address gaps and roadblocks and improve employee growth.

Promote the Same Way You Hire

Lastly, organizations need to remove bias in their internal promotion procedures. Selecting the best candidate for a promotion should be the same as the recruiting and hiring processes. Again, it starts with a clear understanding of what benchmarks are needed for the role, then applying assessment data to help objectively identify the best candidate based on skill and potential.

Your clients, customers, audience, and communities are diverse, so your company should be, too. Diverse businesses have better creative thinking abilities and bring different perspectives than businesses with homogenous employees.

Using assessment tools not only will make the hiring process easier but also can increase diversity in your organization and community by leveling the playing field for candidates of all backgrounds.

When you begin to compare candidates, assess employee development, and choose new leaders based on skills and measurable capabilities, you will eliminate any unconscious bias present in these processes that often reduces diversity in an organization.

Only then will your company be able to hold itself accountable and make a statement about its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Missy Jackson is a managing partner at the Vantage Group Inc., where she uses leadership and coaching strategy to maximize business results. She can be reached at missy@vantagegroupinc.com.