Recently, a client asked me to work with their organization and leadership team on fostering inclusive behaviors with their managers. Global Learning had collaborated with this Fortune 500 Corporation for a number of years on a variety of projects, and they had come to know of our experience and expertise on Unconscious Bias in the marketplace. During our work together, we had partnered with them on developing their diversity strategy and preparing their solutions. Client or not, it’s always wonderful to witness a corporation truly embrace and commit to inclusive principles and practices.
So it was a natural next step in their journey to want us to introduce their managers to the concept of hidden bias and its relationship to creating inclusive practices in the hiring process. In essence, and in their words, their objective was to equip these key employees with the necessary awareness and skills for “hiring the best”. With that phrase alone, I knew there was more important work to do with this client.
Over the years, I have seen this statement, “We Hire the Best”, used by many organizations as a way of defining their market leadership and innovation; in marketing materials, in advertising, in annual reports.
But I’m left to ask ‘what else would we expect?’ Would any company want to be known for anything else? Would you want to work for or buy from any corporation who sought to “Hire the Mediocre” or alternatively whose tagline was, “We Hire the Worst”? But most importantly, what does being the “best” actually mean and according to whom? In order to create inclusive behaviors and put them into practice in an organization’s recruiting and hiring process, we first need to gain an understanding of our personal hidden biases. The best place to start is to acknowledge that we are not alone; we all carry with us, hidden biases.
The first step to defeating our hidden biases is to be honest with ourselves about the blind spots we have. Having a bias is only human. The only shame is in making no effort to improve. And human beings are an improving species-we have been improving ourselves in every way over millennia.” Dr. Mahzarin Banaji.1
Our hidden biases are part of who we are, and can be both positive and negative. They are formed from our own personal experiences and interactions as well as from ideas and observations that are shared through others. They create an unconscious frame of reference that informs our thoughts, reactions and decisions on a daily basis. As a result, they play an integral role in how we think about a potential candidate; their suitability to a particular position in the company, the merit of their experience and education, depending on the interviewer’s preference for or bias against certain characteristics and dimensions of diversity.
So how do we mitigate the influence of personal bias in the recruitment and hiring process?
“It’s on each individual to be vigilant about our blindspots. Not just the ones that close our minds to possibilities, but in equal measure, we must resist the urge to favour those with whom we share a connection –the same school, the same race or culture, the same social circle. We have to challenge ourselves to resist the power of these natural affinities.” Rod Bolger, Senior Vice-President, Finance & Controller, RBC.2
Awareness of our personal biases is an important first step in acknowledging how these blindspots impact our hiring decisions and a critical component in developing strategies and processes to create inclusive practices and behaviors in our workplaces.
So rather than having our client focused on “hiring the best”, we are working with them and many other corporations to understand how bias plays a key role in limiting the power of possibilities and the ultimate success of their organization. We use dynamic illustrative examples in our training that have managers actually experience, rather than just hear, how limiting hidden bias can be for their teams and for their company as a whole. We equip them with skills and tools that have real application in their role as managers. And in the process, we shift their focus from “hiring the best” to being the best at hiring.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,. Or what’s a heaven for?” -Robert Browning