Beware of Your Bias: 4 Key Steps to Attracting a Diverse Workforce

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In today’s globalized world, businesses face diverse obstacles and challenges. To overcome those hurdles, companies need equally diverse workforces of problem-solvers.

However, building diversity in an organization can itself be a challenge if recruiters fail to follow certain essential steps in the hiring process. With the help of the following fundamentals, companies can mitigate unconscious biases in their recruiting efforts, a critical first step in any attempt to create a more diverse workforce.

Why Diversity Matters at Work

Odds are, your organization works with or serves people from more than one cultural group. However, if every member of your workforce shares a similar demographic profile, upbringing, and background, your employees may not be able to relate to the diverse customers or partners your company works with. Additionally, a group of similarly minded people may always look at problems from the same perspective. That environment doesn’t lend itself to thinking outside the box to formulate new and better solutions.

A diverse workforce can help solve those problems. An organization that employs members from across cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds benefits by inviting more unique perspectives into the conversation. Furthermore, this diverse workforce can relate to the experiences of a wider group of clients and partners.

Perhaps the greatest value of diversity can be found in studies that have researched wise decision-making and prediction science. According to Phillip Tetlock, coauthor of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, the most accurate predictions that most effectively guide smart decision-making and problem-solving arise from people who are “open-minded, careful, curious, and — above all — self-critical.” Furthermore, Tetlock found the groups of people from diverse backgrounds with differing skills and opinions were consistently better at making accurate predictions, as they had a wider breadth of information to work with.

Diversity also allows for companies to better understand their own customers. Many companies have made dire mistakes because they did not truly understand their audiences. In 2011, for example, the skin care company Nivea ran an advertisement geared toward a Black audience. The problem, however, was that the ad depicted a clean-shaven Black man holding what was perceived to be a mask with an afro and goatee. The tagline of the ad read “re-civilize yourself.” The perception among the Black community was that Nivea considered natural hairstyles to be barbaric, resulting in accusations of racism against the company. If Nivea had included a diverse set of planners in its advertising campaign, it may have avoided this offensive mistake.

Attracting a Diverse Workforce

A diverse workforce is one of the quickest ways to increase creativity, bring in unique skills, and improve problem-solving. For this reason alone, recruiters should be making diversity a priority.

But a successful diversity recruiting initiative needs the right strategy. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when looking to engage and attract a more diverse array of talent:

1. Make Sure Your Job Description Speaks to All Candidates

The job description is the first thing an applicant will read when considering whether to apply for a job, so it is important to use language that appeals to the widest audience possible. That means using gender-neutral pronouns and avoiding overly masculine or feminine adjectives to describe the type of person the company is looking for.

Studies  show that, consciously or not, we associate certain words with women and others with men. When a job description contains numerous words associated with a particular gender, it can have the effect of driving away candidates not of that gender. Words such as “strong,” “leader,” and “drive” are typically considered “masculine,” while words such as “collaborative,” “responsible,” and “committed” are often considered “feminine.” It’s important to be mindful of these gendered words and to use gender-neutral words (e.g., “reliable,” “solid,” “punctual”) whenever possible.

Because gendered language associations often operate at an unconscious level, it can be hard to spot them in your own job descriptions. Word-analyzing software like Ongig  can be a huge help as you strive to make your job descriptions more gender neutral.

As a final note, it helps to state clearly within the job description that the organization focuses on inclusivity and diversity. Applicants will feel more comfortable about applying if they clearly see diversity is a priority for the organization.

For more expert recruiting insights, check out the latest issue of Magazine:

2. Place Job Ads in a Variety of Channels

If you keep sharing your open jobs through the same channels, you’ll continue to attract the same kinds of people. Try to branch out to reach a wider variety of applicants.

There are job boards that explicitly cater to candidates of certain demographic groups, and these can be invaluable to recruiters looking to connect with different segments of the workforce. For example, if you’re making a push to hire more women, you should consider using channels like Women For Hire in addition to your typical sites.

3. Institute Inclusive Work Policies

If you want to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, you need to make sure your company policies work for everyone. What does the organization’s maternity leave policy look like? Do you accommodate time off for major religious holidays observed by less predominant religious groups, such as Eid and Ramadan? Are the company’s facilities accessible for people with disabilities? Do you offer public transportation solutions for people without vehicles? Having policies likes these in place and advertising them to potential applicants will help people feel supported and valued at your company.

4. Tackle Recruiting Bias

Unconscious bias can be one of the biggest obstacles to a more diverse workforce. This form of bias includes any unconscious opinion a recruiter may have that influences their assessment of an applicant for irrelevant reasons. Unconscious bias can based on stereotypes, unfounded knowledge, or even personal preference. Ageism, sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination often sneak into a recruiter’s decision-making process without them even knowing it, thanks to unconscious bias.

However, recruiters can take a few steps to mitigate their biases:

• Blind Hiring

Consider masking the names of applicants when reviewing resumes so that assumptions about race or gender do not enter into the screening process. You could even consider setting up interviews where you do not see what the applicant looks like, relying only on their answers to your questions to guide your decision.

• Standardized Interviews

If you use the same set of questions with each interviewee and ask them in the same way each time, you can eliminate the chances of unconsciously going easy — or too hard — on an applicant. Another way to standardize interviews is to score each candidate’s response to each question, then compare the total scores of each candidate to make your decision.

• Software-Based Vetting

There are software programs that can vet applicants before a recruiter ever sees them, which can be a great way to filter out unqualified individuals based on more objective criteria. If you are looking for a person with a specific set of skills, you can use computer-based tests to evaluate their abilities in relevant areas.

The hiring process can be difficult, especially when you are attempting to consciously build a more diverse workforce for the first time. However, by applying these key tactics to your strategy, you can engage, attract, and retain a more diverse employee population — and your company will be all the better for it.

Zain Jaffer is a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Zain Ventures.

By Zain Jaffer