A bias is just a tendency to believe some categories of things (people, ideas, products, etc.) are better or worse than others. Synonyms for bias include “non-objectivity,” “partiality,” and “one-sidedness.”
Whether a bias is helpful or hurtful depends on whether the underlying belief is relevant or not. It is important for people to understand the concept before layering in the societal beliefs that can make it harder for people to accept their own role in perpetuating those same beliefs. Gaining this understanding helps us approach our own potential biases in a more informed and open way.
The Bias List: A practice for interviewers
The first step toward controlling biases and promoting greater diversity in the workplace is to think about what your biases might be and write them down into a Bias List. To increase the odds of accurately assessing someone else, you must recognize the triggers of certain emotions, assumptions, and reactions in you. Putting thoughts in writing is a powerful way to make your thinking concrete. This mechanism for capturing the “unspoken criteria” makes it easier to manage. It allows you to compare your biases against the actual criteria needed for the job.
As with first impressions, the point is not to immediately view biases as wrong but to stop them from hijacking your decisions before you have a chance to determine if they should be part of your criteria. Self-awareness takes time and you generally only notice your own quirks when they occur in the moment. A way to effectively and gradually identify these is to start actively paying attention to your judgments upon first meeting people—anyone, not just candidates—and then logging them.
Take it a Step Farther...Share Your Bias List
Research by Emily Pronin, Daniel Y. Lin, and Lee Ross indicates we are more likely to believe others are biased and have a much harder time believing we are biased. In other words, we are biased against believing we are biased. Because of that dynamic, it helps to have others hold us accountable.
Once you’ve started the practice of creating a bias list for your personal use, consider supercharging the practice by sharing the bias list with a co-interviewer. Most of the biases people will openly share won’t be the deepest, most controversial ones. What you want as a first step is the basic understanding and acknowledgment that our minds make decisions quickly based on inputs that we aren’t aware of, according to Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. The more complicated discussions can get layered in over time as trust grows, comfort with vulnerability increases, and the practices are bought into.
If you are doing this with a group of interviewers, have them discuss their bias list with each other the day before interviewing anyone. During the interview, nothing explicit is done with the bias list other than each interviewer having their own heightened awareness. It is after the interview, when interviewers are debriefing the candidate, that they must hold each other accountable. They must be willing to share their biases and call each other out if needed.
Admitting a potential bias isn’t easy. Acknowledging that an interviewer may have picked up on something increases the odds they will be open to sharing again in the future.
Acknowledging the bias doesn’t mean it is accurate; it means the person has beliefs. It creates an environment in which people will begin to speak more openly. Once biases are openly aired, the team can discuss whether others had the same reaction and whether the issue matters for the role in question. That doesn’t mean you’ll automatically change your decisions. It just means that you’ve taken the time to determine if the inputs to the decision are relevant and whether they reflect reality or perception.
Resistance to Bias Sharing
It is likely the word “bias” will meet resistance by some people. It has become a buzzword almost solely associated with diversity efforts. Know your audience. If this is the case, replace “bias” with “assumptions” or “automatic thinking.” If you’ve used any of Daniel Kahneman’s research, use “system 1 thinking.” The goal is to get people to understand how their minds work. If the term you use creates resistance, use a different one.
By reducing biases of any kind, we tap into our desire to be fair minded and good people. People may not acknowledge their societal biases, but practices such as these make it harder to deny them and those benefits extend to candidates who are historically the most impacted.
Chaka’s Recommended Resources: Studies for Practicing Diversity in the Workplace