In the middle of Women’s History Month, with Black History Month and International Women’s Day just behind us, and the 2018 Paralympics just begun, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity these days. As the #MeToo movement and “Get Out!” illustrate, the same experience can look completely different depending on whether you’re male or female, white or black.
My thoughts about diversity haven’t been entirely happy, however. In fact, the current conversation has reminded me that, no matter how well meaning we are, each of us has unconscious biases. The era in which we grew up, the attitudes our families instilled in us, and the way the rest of the world sees us — all of these factors affect how we see ourselves, and how we see others.
For small business owners, that’s a particular challenge, because we are leaders who need to set examples. Yet if you take a glance around your own business, you may find a lot of people who look a lot like you — or a lot of people who look a lot like each other.
Unconscious Bias in Hiring
Here are a few things I read in the past week that made me think.
Using language that’s stereotypically associated with men or women in job descriptions can discourage candidates of one gender from applying for a job. For example, a study by Cornell University researchers found that ads using words like “ninja,” “rock star,” or “hardcore” tended to deter women from applying. (Although the researchers didn’t study this, I’d assume the same words would dissuade older workers, too.)
Where you place your want ads affects the type of candidates you’ll attract. Late last year, a lawsuit was filed against T-Mobile US, Amazon and Cox for using social media’s ad-targeting capacities to keep job ads from showing up on older workers’ Facebook feeds, SHRM reports.
Traditional ways of recruiting may need to change. The Wall Street Journal reports that a group of plaintiffs in their 40s and 50s have sued PwC, alleging that it discriminates against older workers by recruiting on college campuses and on school affiliated jobsites.
You might be asking for too much in your want ads. Women and minorities are more likely than white men to think they have to meet every requirement listed on a job ad before they can even apply, Cornell research found. Being too specific and detailed about qualifications for a job can reduce the diversity of your applicant pool. You can still ask for what you want, but saying, “Advanced degree preferred” instead of “MBA required” encourages a wider range of people to apply.
Inclusive Hiring Best Practices
Here are some best practices that can help you attract more diverse job candidates.
- Spell it out. State in your ad and on your website that your company welcomes applications from a wide range of job candidates. Explicitly saying your business values inclusion and diversity can go a long way toward making all kinds of people feel welcome.
- Focus on what the job needs to accomplish, not on the qualifications the person should have. What does the person in this role need to get done?
- Use prepared interview questions. Let’s face it: When you’re interviewing a bunch of job candidates, some of them just “click” with you — even if they’re not necessarily the best candidates. Asking everyone the same set of questions helps reduce your bias a little bit, as opposed to letting your interviews turn into conversations.
- If you’re working with outside companies to recruit or provide temporary employees, make sure they know that you are actively seeking diverse candidates. (Make like Academy Award winner Frances McDormand and create your version of an “inclusion rider.”)
- Actively reach out to organizations that help people with disabilities, older people, women, and minorities find jobs.
I don’t pretend to have any solution for the problem of unconscious bias, but all of us can take steps to try to prevent it from limiting our workplaces.
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