How Small-Business Owners Can Help Prevent Hiring Discrimination

Recent studies found that inadvertent hiring discrimination happens regularly. Here's how to keep it from seeping into your business.
November 05, 2015

Bias, it seems, can be hard to avoid. Even when we have the best intentions, people sometimes find themselves making prejudiced decisions.

Recent studies have found that this inadvertent form of discrimination—also known as unintentional bias—regularly happens in hiring. There’s the well-documented “black name” bias, where, according to a 2003 study, potential candidates who had seemingly “white sounding names” received 50 percent more callbacks than names that sound African American. And recently, Rutgers and Syracuse University researchers found discrimination when it came to hiring people with disabilities

Researchers sent out more than 6,000 fictitious resumes reflecting a qualified candidate for advertised accounting jobs. Half of the applicants had six years of experience, while the other half were just a year out of college. The applicants’ cover letters then reflected their status: While one-third didn’t disclose a disability, a third mentioned the applicant had a spinal cord injury and the other third mentioned having Asperger’s. 

“We created people who were truly experts in that profession,” Mason Ameri, a researcher at Rutgers, told The New York Times. “We thought the employer would want to at least speak to this person, shoot an email, send a phone call, see if I could put a face to a name.”

But the study found that to not be the case, with disabled candidates receiving 26 percent “fewer expressions of employer interest than those without disabilities, with little difference between the two types of disability,” according to a summary of the study published on The National Bureau of Economic Research. 

According to the study, small businesses with fewer than 15 employees (and thereby not beholden to the Americans with Disability Act) were the least likely to express interest in a disabled candidate.

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword—it can increase a company’s value. Here are some ways businesses can reduce the likelihood of unintentional hiring discrimination,

Find Your Bias

We all have them—but the slightly insidious part of unintentional bias is that we may not even realize when those biases can affect our decision making. Take a free online test like Harvard’s Implicit Association Test to determine what your biases are, and self-correct from there.

“Once you know what your unconscious biases are, you can work around them by consciously choosing a person you would normally be biased against,” says Jennifer Hancock, founder of Humanist Learning Systems, a company that teaches humanistic management online.

Remove Bias From Your Search

“The easiest way to avoid recruitment bias is removing or blocking out names and addresses from resumes before submission to the hiring authority,” says Jean Marie Dillon, an HR executive who has seen this technique work well in IT fields where discrimination against women and minorities is high.

You can also let someone else do the selecting for you. "Using a staffing agency can remove the bias while giving you the option of a risk-free 'trial run' with the person best suited for the job,” says Gail Abelman of Staffing Perfection Inc. in Atlanta.

Also spreading the hiring power beyond you can help. “Have multiple people involved in your hiring process to reduce the likelihood that one person’s unconscious biases drive the decision making,” advises David Weisenfeld, legal editor of XpertHR, a HR resource for professionals.

Reduce Room for Bias in Interviews

The types of questions you ask or the way your interviews are structured could introduce bias. One way to avoid that? "Asking the same or similar questions of all job candidates on applications and in the interview setting is a good way to filter out preconceived biases," Weisenfeld says. "Connecting with someone in an interview is not necessarily a predictor of their on-the-job success. That’s why an employer should take time to reflect on each candidate and how well they are likely to perform."

"Research shows that most managers prefer unstructured interviews and they perceive them to be the most effective," says Greg Barnett, vice president of research and development at The Predictive Index, which helps companies find the best people through behavioral assessments. "The reality is that they are the least effective in terms of predicting job performance. That’s because they are the most easily impacted by all of the biases. The use of assessment tools helps to introduce objective information about who a person is, how they are likely to perform/behave, how quickly they will learn, whether they might be good cultural fit, etc. Another version of an assessment is a simple structured interview, which are shown to be much better at eliminating bias and improving hiring decisions."

Jordan Wan, founder and CEO of sales recruiting platform CloserIQ, claims using an interview rubric has been incredibly helpful in "eliminating emotional biases and conducting a more efficient recruiting process." CloserIQ's rubric includes factors such as whether or not the person is coachable, their work ethic and whether they're articulate.

"A rubric can prevent you from jumping to conclusions by replacing emotional judgment with bite-sized factors, helping you make objective, micro-evaluations about each candidate," Wan says. "It forced our team to achieve consensus on what the ideal candidate looks like. Now, everyone is aligned on who we are looking for [and] interviewers are much more efficient because they are focusing on just a few things."

Take Bias Out of Your Decision

Even with all these processes, there's still a chance that bias can creep in after whittling down your resume pool to qualified and diverse candidates. Hancock of Humanist Learning Systems has just the trick to resolve that.

“When we don't have a good reason to do something, we [tend to] make up a reason," she says. "It turns out that decisions made this way are worse than making decisions by random selection. So if you are having trouble deciding on equally well-qualified candidates, choose the one you hire randomly. Literally pull their name out of a hat or something of that nature. This will help prevent you from introducing your bias into the hiring process through rationalization.” 

The information contained in this article is for generalized informational and educational purposes only and is not designed to substitute for, or replace, a professional opinion about any particular business or situation or judgment about the risks or appropriateness of any financial or business strategy or approach for any specific business or situation. THIS ARTICLE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. The views and opinions expressed in authored articles on OPEN Forum represent the opinion of their author and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions and/or judgments of American Express Company or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions (including, without limitation, American Express OPEN). American Express makes no representation as to, and is not responsible for, the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or reliability of any opinion, advice or statement made in this article.

Read more articles on HR. 

Photo: iStock