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You have done everything you are supposed to do in order to increase minority and female hiring. You are happy with targeted outreach done in tandem with Talent Acquisition. Circa’s job postings have returned a diverse crop of applicants. But if you still have hiring shortfalls in  your Affirmative Action Plan where you had prior-year underrepresentation – you are not alone.

In a recent survey only 13% of HR leaders believe their organizations have been effective at increasing diversity representation. Why? One reason is implicit bias. It can lead well-meaning hiring managers to base decisions on cultural assumptions. Worse, research shows that in some cases diversity training, especially ‘one-off’ training as opposed to practice-oriented workshops, can have a backlash effect that reinforces bias. Science shows us that it can be difficult for human beings to alter preconceptions.

Bias, implicit or not, has a lot to do with African-Americans facing as much discrimination in hiring today as 25 years ago. Similar barriers affect women, individuals with disabilities, older employees, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and first-generation immigrants. 

You can use a proven toolkit of evidence-based processes to mitigate bias and ensure diversity in selection:

  • Avoid job descriptions that use language stereotypically associated with men, such as ‘is a natural leader’ or ‘can succeed in a competitive environment.’
  • Employ ‘blind’ resume reviews by hiding applicants’ names. Studies have shown applicants with ‘foreign’ or ‘Black’ names are disqualified disproportionately to those with European-sounding names.
  • Establish explicit criteria for selection.  Require written explanations for any deviation from the criteria. Retain the explanations.
  • Challenge hiring managers to think beyond ‘hiring like me.’ Have conversations with hiring managers to discuss their preferences, and ask what mindsets, skills and diverse experiences lead to success.
  • Do not rely on applicant self-evaluations. Women are more likely to underestimate their capacities. Some cultures discourage self-praise.
  • Do not factor the prestige of applicants’ schools into selection decisions. Weighting applicants by school ranking commonly disfavors minorities and, often, women.
  • Use great care before rejecting candidates for gaps in resumes. Women interrupt their careers for family obligations more often than men. Cultural stereotypes can disadvantage men who have taken parental leave.
  • Make sure that the candidate slate presented to the hiring panel or manager is diverse. (Studies find that the odds of hiring a woman is 80% greater if there are two female finalists.)
  • Have an EEO or D&I representative or a trained member of the selecting organization act as ‘bias interrupter’ on selection panels.
  • Interviewers should ask performance-based questions (“tell me about the time you…”). Keep to the facts of what a candidate has actually done. This reduces reliance on perceptions of ‘potential’ that often unduly favors white males. Whenever possible, have the candidates generate work samples.
  • Make sure that your talent acquisition system allows you to track who makes each of the selection/deselection decisions along the path to hire, and logs why each decision was made. This ‘step data’ is necessary for driving accountability and, if your employer is a federal contractor, for meeting the record keeping requirements of OFCCP’s ‘internet applicant rule.’

These practices create guideposts that help ensure robust diversity in selection. Changing policies and procedures has a much more immediate effect than trying to change old habits, hearts and minds.

Once the workforce is diverse, mentoring, cross-training and other programs that spark engagement and increase contact among different groups should create a culture in which differences no longer create barriers.  Until then, use the guideposts.

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Paul McGovern
Managing Partner
Praxis Compliance

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