How Bias Influences Hiring, And So Much More, Part 2

In part 1 of How Bias Influences Hiring, And So Much More, we discussed the ad industry’s failure to address a lack of diversity in hiring, and the inherent biases that affect diversity initiatives and ongoing human resource practices. Becoming more aware of biased thinking and behavior can help us to consciously compensate for this, and improve efforts to build a more diverse ad agency team.

Strategies for Getting Past Biases

Recruiting, interviewing, hiring and developing employee policies aimed at reducing biases are good places to launch your diversity plans. Before you start, remember that diversity is an agency-wide commitment, not just something your employees are expected to deliver. Agency owners carry their own biases, often unconsciously influencing their employees. If you are truly committed to building a more diverse agency staff, biases must be identified and dragged out into the open from the C-suite to the accounting clerk.

Write recruiting materials and job descriptions using gender-neutral, inclusive language. Subconscious biases can creep into even the language used in job ads, potentially steering good people away from responding.

Ask anyone involved in hiring to list their six “go-to” people. Then check the list: Are they all the same race; gender; centered on certain hobbies/interests; share a cultural or educational background, etc.? Seek people who fill skill gaps, bring specific industry experience or media knowledge, and share values, not people similar to those already employed. People who can shake up creative thinking or add a unique POV are better still. (Agency owners, include your own go-to list!)

Use structured interviews. Ask every candidate the same questions, in the same order. Structured interviews are more than twice as effective in predicting actual job performance than unstructured interviews. And they act as a barrier to biased questions.

Use a screening worksheet [library link] listing desired skills, abilities, traits and characteristics. Keep that worksheet at hand throughout the screening, resumé review, interview and negotiation process, to remind you of the goal of hiring someone to fill that bill.

Use multiple interviewers. All interviewers should use the same screening worksheets and structured interview questions. Multiple assessments give you multiple perspectives, reducing the effect of individual biases.

Have candidates take a skills test. This focuses hiring decisions on skills and abilities rather than a candidate’s appearance, personality… or the subjective values of the interviewer.

What About Values and Culture?

Avoiding hiring biases and seeking diversity do not preclude finding people compatible with agency culture, mission and values. Clearly defining these ideals allows you to build the right screening questions into your interviews and identify people who will be a good fit.

Look for people who can fit into existing teams. Hiring people who are too different may bring conflict into the agency. Some conflict is a good thing in a creative organization, since it can push you to seek alternative and often more innovative solutions. But look for conflict in terms of ideas and modes of thinking—not personality- or values-clashing. Look for people who are not satisfied with obvious solutions, who won’t settle for the status quo. Embrace creative risk-takers; just be prepared to support those risks, or your new hires may exit as quickly as they arrive.

Are you interested in discovering your own unconscious biases? A cross-university research project offers free online Implicit Association Tests designed to make test-takers aware of their inherent biases. If you’re interested in the science of how our brains work, you might like Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson; the University of Virginia professor of psychology explains how our brain creates shortcuts to process millions of bits of information, and how these become subconscious biases. And learn a bit about how Google and other tech firms are striving to reduce bias in their hiring practices.

See also: Building a Diversity Culture in Your Agency

Diversity and Communication Styles

The All-Inclusive Interview Process

Desperately Seeking Someone


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