What Businesses Don’t Understand About Recruiter Bias When It Comes to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

 Recently, I came across an article titled Talent Isn’t ‘Human Capital’: Why This D&I Recruiter Won’t Help You Tick a Box. The article led me to question everything about business industry diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.

This is not to say that our efforts are in the wrong place, but more specifically, how much science and psychology do the D&I recruiters actually know about bias? Are these D&I experts in business, human resources, the biology of bias, or psychology of bias, or all the above? Each brings a different lens to a company and is this the lens that you want your company to perpetuate?

Consider the following scenario: A person who has been socially primed to hate an out-group (someone different than them socially, physically, etc.) will have resistance to recruit someone that physically looks like that out-group member; whether that person is doing it intentionally or not, it still occurs.

This is the main trouble with face-to-face interviews and virtual interviews. Recruiting someone for these efforts is only a Band-Aid at best. Scientifically speaking, our companies globally are not accounting for the fundamental flaw in their so-called D&I recruitment measures.

I ask, where is the science? Is your company really getting to the root cause?

As babies, we recognize our father and mother through our social interactions like facial associations, which provide cues of physical similarity and genetic relatedness. Thus, intergroup bias, where we favor members of our own group more favorably, can be explained in terms of physical favoritism as it helps with the recognition of kin. 

Social identity theory emphasizes the influence of groups, noting that individuals begin to take on various social roles and define themselves through a process of categorization in an attempt to gain acceptance to the group based on shared traits. Social classification assists people in defining themselves as part of the organization and provides the ability to classify themselves in the current environment.

However, categorization is a dark side of forming group memberships; survival for power and association within a group pushes people to behave in certain ways whereby they adopt group norms. Once the group forms around the group characteristic (i.e. the in-group), members begin to self-enhance and act in regard to self-interest. So, coming back to the scenario earlier, a primed brain of expert recruiters will fundamentally act in the interest of their group.

When members act in favor of their own group, they begin to self-inflate/self-promote members of that group. If this sounds familiar to your company, just know that it is normal and is a by-product of bias in our brains. Specifically, the fusiform face area, which handles the categorization of those similar/different to oneself.

The repercussion of this enhanced positivity is increased self-inflation, which makes it difficult to accept criticism, particularly by an out-group member that looks different.

Targeted areas in the brain, known as the fusiform face areas, have been found to contribute to same-race memory in European Americans and African Americans. To address the impact of own-race bias based upon environmental exposure, researchers studied 3-month-old infants from the following groups: Caucasian-Israeli, African-Ethiopian and an African-Israeli group. The infants interacted with a variety of staff at a support center, and those that had cross-race exposure had little to no preference for the in-group as compared to those who had no cross-race exposure. This suggests that as groups become more heterogeneous or different, there is a decrease in own-race bias.

Do you want to know the big anomaly headed your way?

According to the Pew Research Center, our multi-racial group is growing three times as fast as the rest of the population. What does this mean with regard to D&I efforts? Good news. It means we are seeing more heterogenous groups form, which can aid in promoting more equity. What should businesses be doing to be inclusive?

  • Consider adopting and hiring those from diverse backgrounds, as this will help shape your company for the long haul regarding D&I efforts.
  • Recognize the biases your company might perpetuate as it relates to how the brain works.
  • Adopt the Recognize-Explore-Reflect-Redirect Model for your current work climate.

When it comes to educating companies on D&I efforts, the efforts need to follow the path of (Recognize-Explore-Reflect-Redirect). We need to recognize that bias is an evolutionary relic of how group members assisted each other, what we call altruism. We then need to explore our biases. Have your team identify 5-to-7 friends and break this down by physical traits, languages, social characteristics, cultural characteristics, behavioral habits, political beliefs, etc. Then identify all the areas that are shared and different.

Once your team has explored its natural in-group biases, let the team reflect on why they formed. Was it because they all have kids and you have kids that go to their school? Or, are they there because they have the same political ideals as you? Next, take your team through the process of redirecting their energies by finding groups that are socially different, physically different, linguistically different, culturally different. Once you have redirected the group members, allow them to communicate on how those groups formed, to begin with.

What do you do with future candidates to prevent in-group bias from getting in the way?

Unbent’s virtual reality, pre-screening seeks to do this while ensuring it moves from the padded resumes that go through various word searches in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), frontal lobe bias, and nepotism. We have learned that diversity means more and we want to re-shape, or “Unbend” the way companies think about hiring. This is where virtual reality, skill assessment, scaffolding on an expert-novice continuum, cognition, and assessment of bias meet…in a disruptive platform that no longer is defined by a recruiter’s self-perception.

Allison Silveus is the co-founder and CEO of Unbent, as well as the Educational Program Manager for the Health Science Center Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine Faculty Development Center. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology (2005) and Master of Science in Forensic Genetics from Health Science Center (2007). She currently is a Doctoral Student in Higher Education Leadership. Gamified Screening Solutions LLC (dba Unbent) is a neuro-diversity tool for assessing decision making. You can contact her at allison@unbent.io

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