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Unconscious Bias: Denise Leaser on how resumes may lead to unconscious bias

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Denise Leaser is President at GreatBizTools

Denise, what does diversity hiring mean to you? A lot is said about diversity ratios and making sure that all groups are represented.

To me, it means hiring based on merit with special care taken to ensure your hiring is free from biases. Candidate’s age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation — these are personal characteristics that are completely unrelated to job performance. Hiring on merit leads to opening the job market to a much wider universe of people. A variety of tests can be used to identify candidate’s skills and affinities. Sometimes, the candidate has no idea that a career in information technology may be good for her or him and what training is required to pursue such a career.

What are the best D&I practices of your company? Some innovative companies like Tesla and Accenture are not relying on resumes anymore, others are tapping into new talent pools, etc.

Ditch Resumes

Well, first, I think companies should ditch resumes. Resumes are good for basic work history and biographical data, but there a lot of problems with them. First of all, they tell you what a candidate has done, not what they can do. Employers can miss out on a lot of qualified candidates who may not have a track record but would be ideal employees. Most online guides suggest that resumes shall be 1-2 pages long, and to follow this guidance, candidates skip part of their experience which may be relevant to the role they are applying for.

Then, quite often, resumes introduce bias. Think about it, when you look at candidate’s name, address, and school for example — are top schools and candidates having similar background attracting your attention? That’s unconscious bias as it is in human’s nature to relate to people who have similar experiences and world views as us.

UK there is an initiative helping chronically unemployed people to get into IT roles and this wouldn’t be possible if only their resumes were taken into account as they would never be given the chance to attend training and apply for IT jobs.


Structure your pre-hire processes


Another best practice is to structure your pre-hire processes. We are big on using structured tools, like pre-hire assessments and structured interview tools. That way we can ensure everyone is on an even playing field. You want to make sure your hiring process complies with EEOC guidelines and is legally defensible. Structured, validated, unbiased tools will do all that, ensure you have a diverse workforce and give you better results because your employees are a better fit for the job. We are looking at candidate’s willingness and ability to learn, curiosity, persistence and cognitive skills that are relevant to the job. 


Tap into a diverse candidate pool


Make sure the candidate pools you are sourcing from are diverse. If you don’t have a diverse candidate pool, it will be very difficult to have a diverse workforce. Although, theoretically everyone can apply for the job, often, the language being used or where the job has been advertised, may result in receiving more or less the same candidate profiles.


Recruit Outside your typical boundaries


The last thing I want to mention is to recruit outside your typical boundaries. Not just geography, but profession and work experience. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest ways to increase diversity and have a more inclusive workforce. Stop going back over and over again to the same well to source your talent — and take a chance on people who have innate skills and abilities — and the personality traits — for the job. It’s time to look for people who have been overlooked because of old ways of thinking.

Job titles can be misleading as the CFO of a small company is unlikely to have the same responsibilities as the CFO of a Fortune 500 company. Looking at the job family and skills set provides much better results.


Are there any D&I campaigns you are particularly proud of?


Our entire business is based on increasing diversity and inclusiveness. GreatBizTools recently announced an initiative with IBM where we launched a new tool called “MyInnerGenius.” IBM was looking for a way to help underserved communities — jobseekers, including those with long-term unemployment, refugees, asylum seekers and veterans, get into good paying jobs in IT. The first step in the process is an assessment we developed called MyInnerGenius. Using cognitive tools, we can identify careers people will love, regardless of their education, background or personal circumstances, and get them on the path to a better life.  That is what this is all about, isn’t it?


What are the challenges associated with diversity hiring?


I think that there is a lot of confusion over diversity hiring. Sometimes, it may lead to the misconception that the goal of diversity hiring is to increase workplace diversity just for the sake of diversity. To me, the goal should always be to remove biases in sourcing and screening. You may be ignoring — or accidentally discriminating, against qualified, diverse candidates. 

That requires a structured set of tools and processes. You can’t just wing it — you need to use a fair and equitable way to assess talent, so nobody is excluded and everyone gets the same opportunity.

If you source properly by tapping into a diverse candidate pool and use unbiased selection criteria and tools, your workplace will be diverse.


Do you use any diversity hiring tools or software?


In my opinion, the big one is pre-hire assessments. They can really improve diversity and inclusiveness because the pre-hire assessments don’t look at age, gender, zip codes, elite schools, sexual orientation — nothing. They provide a consistent assessment based on a person’s fit for the job.  But you need to use assessments that look at innate skills, abilities and personality traits to make this work. The whole assessment field is exploding as companies start questioning resumes — and college degrees — as a way to screen candidates. Because there are so many tests out there, make sure you are using tests developed on the basis of sound psychometric principles that are validated and don’t introduce bias.

To me, that’s a good thing. It’s time to democratize the workforce by focusing on skills and abilities and creating career opportunities for people outside the traditional boundaries.