Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Bias and hiring

Biases are a natural part of who we are as humans. To make sense and process complexities of our day to day to lives, we naturally compartmentalize or create categories in our minds. These categories are expressed in the form of generalizations, stereotypes, attitudes and associations. They incorporate our beliefs, values, and experiences, and often impact our social and professional circles.

When biases are left unchecked or go unnoticed, they can blur our ability to make sound and equitable decisions. Recruiters, hiring managers, and others who participate in the hiring process should be aware of potential biases that can produce additional exclusions during the hiring and selection process. False narratives about a candidate are not just formed in the first few seconds of reviewing an application, but can be formed before the position is ever posted, and those narratives can influence the overall equity of the hiring process.

Types of bias

Institutional bias

Institutional norms, practices, procedures, and policies that create a culture of belonging for the dominant social groups in the workforce, while creating a disparate impact and culture of isolation for those who may underrepresented in the workforce. When developing evaluation criteria or job postings, institutional bias may be expressed in unnecessarily adding an advanced degree as a “desired qualification” or seeking applicants with knowledge of UW systems.

Explicit bias

Explicit bias incorporates the attitudes, preferences, and generalizations towards others that we are aware of and acknowledge. Explicit biases are intentional and typically derive from our personal beliefs and values, life experiences, and the desire to belong or be surrounded by people similar to ourselves. When reviewing a resume, explicit bias may be expressed in intentionally only interviewing candidates who graduated from a top school or the deliberate dismissal of qualified candidates who have not earned a degree.

Implicit bias

Implicit bias incorporates attitudes, preferences, and generalizations towards others that we are not aware of and do not control. Consider the expression of “running on auto-pilot.” Much of our day-to-day actions are performed subconsciously or without much thought. Likewise, our implicit biases may go unnoticed in our daily lives, and can show up in ways that conflict with our stated beliefs and values. Even if you are working to create a fair and equitable hiring process, undetected biases can have a negative impact on your screening and selection decisions.

Some key characteristics of implicit bias

  • Inherent in our make-up as human beings (intuitive vs analytical)
  • Often based on stereotypes, exposure, lived experience, and dominant culture
  • May not align with our declared or perceived values
  • May not be mutually exclusive of our explicit biases
  • Impact is often explicit and may show up as discrimination, racism, homophobia, etc.
  • Hinders the ability to assess and evaluate equitably
  • Impacts our decisions, perceptions, and positionality

Quick tip: Everyone is biased, but self- awareness is the first step in minimizing the negative impact your biases may have on others. Some questions to ask yourself when reviewing applications:

  • Does this applicant remind me of myself or someone I know?
  • Are there elements of this resume such as format or style that positively or negatively influence my overall impression?
  • What elements of this resume am I considering that are not relevant to the job? Are they connected to the pre-determined competencies in the rubric?
  • Am I evaluating the skills and experience actually listed on the resume or my interpretations and assumptions of the candidate’s skills and experience?
  • What ways have I already excluded or endorsed this candidate? Why?

Additional ways to audit and mitigate your bias

Ask yourself and hiring team:

  • Why do we see this applicant this way?
  • Could our “norms” or assumptions be factors?
  • Do we have the information we need to make this conclusion?
  • Is this conclusion evidence-based?
  • Have we considered all perspectives?
  • Look for ways to say yes:
    • Don’t overlook or undervalue the unfamiliar or unexpected
    • Compare candidates to criteria
    • More experience doesn’t always mean most experienced
    • Recognize the ways institutional bias may influence how you define merit and excellence
    • Consider culture adds, which are the various forms of diversity that add value to your team and department.

For further self-evaluation and to learn more about your own biases towards specific groups, consider taking the Implicit Association Test from ProjectImplicit.