Confronting Unconscious Bias in Hiring Practices

unconscious bias

So much of today’s job search and recruiting process takes place online that you can go through several rounds of interviews before you finally get to meet with someone face-to-face. At that point, a person might feel pretty confident about his/her chances, yet they may be unaware of the unconscious biases working against them.

An unconscious bias is a prejudice a person has but doesn’t outwardly project – they may not even know they have one (Porter, 2014). But these biases exist in all levels of organizations, and they revolve around everything from race and gender to dress and body language. Even a person’s name can invoke an unconscious bias. Failing to recognize these biases within a company’s culture can decrease diversity and deprive the organization of valuable talent.

A blind recruiting solution

As an African-American woman working in tech, Stephanie Lampkin was already a member of the industry minority when perceived unconscious bias cost her an opportunity to move up. Lampkin, who has been coding since she was 13 and holds an engineering degree from Stanford and an MBA from MIT, thought she’d had a successful interview for a large tech company until the recruiter told her she wasn’t “technical enough” for the role.

The recruiter said, “We’ll hang onto your resume in case a sales or marketing position opens up,” Lampkin recalled during a conversation with Forward Thinking at the 2016 Forbes Women’s Summit in New York City.

“That was kind of my ‘aha’ moment that I don’t fit the profile of what an engineer at this company looks like,” she said. “But if this were strictly based on skills and experiences it would probably be a different assessment.”

Lampkin turned the experience into an opportunity, and launched Blendoor, a blind recruiting app that aims to prevent unconscious bias in hiring by focusing strictly on a candidate’s qualifications. Recruiters scanning the list of available talent through Blendoor will only see skills and experience, rather than names, photos, or ages.

“A recruiter simply matches with candidates, candidates match with a recruiter, whenever there’s a match each gets a push notification and they can message each other, set up a phone screening, interview, or formal application,” Lampkin explained.

The concept has earned her accolades from business leaders – Lampkin was named the winner of the 2015 National Black MBA Whiteboard Innovation Challenge (Williams, 2015) – and has helped increase awareness of unconscious bias within her industry. A company working with Blendoor not only provides a job posting but also internal insights for candidates to view, such as inclusion programs and the makeup of its executive leadership.

Changing culture in and out of the workplace

Creating awareness of unconscious biases within an organization can go a long way toward increasing diversity, most notably in tech, where women make up about 30 percent of the workforce but a much smaller number in leadership roles (Cheng, 2015).

“We’ve made huge strides, but I don’t want those strides to start tapering off,” said Eva Smith, Head of Integrated Marketing for Pinterest.

Smith, who previously held vice president positions at The Weather Channel and WebMD, told Forward Thinking she was drawn to the social media brand because of its commitment to eliminating unconscious biases and closing the gender gap in technology. Pinterest has a dedicated head of diversity, she said, and requires its employees to undergo unconscious bias training.

“I’ve been fortunate to work in digital and tech for years now, and the problem’s been there, for a really long time, but no one ever really called it out,” she said. “I just thought there was something so incredible about this organization that [stated], ‘No, we’re going to point out the elephant in the room.’”

While companies like hers have taken steps forward, Smith said, weeding out unconscious bias will always be a challenge because it is so ingrained in our culture and the behaviors to which families have grown accustomed.

“My husband’s an amazing cook. I burn everything. He’s the one who should get questions about nutrition,” she said. “I’m phenomenal in math. He can’t add a 20 percent tip, yet why is he the one handed the check?

“It’s those kind of biases...that if we don’t start nipping in the bud and calling attention to, I think those are the things that start to erode [progress]. If you only see your dad get the check, can you, as a woman, do the math?”

Written by Jason R. Latham, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education.

References

Cheng, R. (2015). Women in tech: The numbers don’t add up. CNET. Retrieved from http://www.blackenterprise.com/small-business/blendoor-wins-national-black-mbas-innovation-whiteboard-challenge/

Porter, J. (2014). You’re More Biased Than You Think. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3036627/strong-female-lead/youre-more-biased-than-you-think

Williams, B. (2015). Blendoor wins National Black MBA’s Innovation Whiteboard Challenge. Black Enterprise. Retrieved from http://www.blackenterprise.com/small-business/blendoor-wins-national-black-mbas-innovation-whiteboard-challenge/

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