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Reducing Gender and Other Biases in Hiring and Selection Practices

In a research project conducted at Harvard Business School (and discussed in the HBS Alumni Bulletin, Dec. 2012), it was found that “gender bias in hiring or promotion is less likely to occur to candidates are compared to one another, rather than evaluated solely as individuals.”

Here is how we have worked with a number of clients to improve their hiring practices and their selection of high potentials within the organization to reduce gender bias. In each example below, we have a small team in charge of the process overall who have access to the specifics of each individual – such as gender, dates that may indicate age, ethnic background and any known disabilities.

Potential New Hires

When candidates come in to Human Resources in response to open positions, we have set up a process to provide the following information to each interviewer/hiring manager:

  • Work history with years of service at each organization, title, company name and description provide of role within that organization – but no specific dates of employment included
  • Educational background – with no specific dates of degrees awarded
  • Other professional and volunteer contributions such as: service on Boards, volunteering for nonprofits, etc. – with no specific dates of service included

This enables for a fairer evaluation of each candidate by the hiring manager prior to individuals coming in for interviews. This is not to say that every hiring manager is biased and will make decisions based on a candidate’s age or gender. But sometimes we have certain perceptions of individuals that impact how we think about them and their ability, in this example, to perform a certain role. By stripping away certain identification criteria and leaving in only what is necessary and relevant to make a decision to interview, we do a much better job of reducing any type of bias – even unconscious bias. It is simply a best practice overall within a number of our clients and certainly has enabled for increased diversity at all levels of the organization.

When we move forward to evaluate candidates who have been interviewed, we again strip out identifying information and only keep that information that is relevant to making a hiring decision – background, expertise, experiences, education, interviewer ratings, etc.  This makes for a much fairer process overall in making a decision as to who should be hired to fill a particular role.

Identification and Selection of High Potentials

Similarly, when we have identified individuals who are high potentials and want to have them put through the selection process for a high potential program, we have set up the following processes at client sites:

  • Use a nomination form that includes relevant information such as:
    • Roles/responsibilities undertaken within the company
    • Departments worked in
    • Projects led within the company outside of regular workload/responsibilities
    • Internal and external leadership roles (such as volunteer work externally or serving on internal event planning committees or other internal company-wide initiatives)
    • Assessments of individual, results from 360’s, past evaluation data
    • Feedback from others with whom individual has worked (without their name being supplied, only their feedback)
    • Why the individual is a high potential within the organization

This information does not include the candidate’s name and gender although, certainly, there may be some individuals who can identify the individual based on the information provided – especially if they have worked closely with the individual.

This information is used, along with similar information of other candidates, to select individuals for high potential programs. Once individuals are selected, they are brought in for group interviews with executives and, in some organization, members of the Boards of Directors.  This enables for a fairer process overall in selecting candidates for the interviewing process. Similarly to above, once interviews are complete, the data is gathered and presented for final selection in a format that provides all relevant data – including feedback from the interviews – without providing the candidate’s name or gender information.  We then compare each potential candidate across the board to select the most promising individuals for a high potential program.

There are certainly many details behind each of these process flows, but the high level details provide you with an understanding of how to reduce gender and other biases in hiring and selection processes. In evaluations conducted at a number of clients, we have found that the best candidate is chosen based on more important criteria than someone’s gender, age and ethnic background, and, in a few cases, we have enabled for increased diversity in a number of organizations within departments and divisions that were not diverse enough. Enabling for increased diversity enables for greater organizational success overall.