by Matt Alderton | July 08, 2019
Hiring the right employee is more art than science. After all, even if a candidate looks perfect on paper, they may not feel like the right fit when you meet them for an interview. Likewise, some candidates might feel like the perfect match but lack the specific skills and experience you're looking for. It's tricky business, which is why many managers hire employees based on gut feelings.
Unfortunately, the unavoidable influence of personal bias means your gut can't always be trusted -- especially if you're trying to build a diverse organization that benefits from people with many different backgrounds and experiences.

"Often … well-intentioned hiring managers end up inadvertently weeding out qualified candidates from underestimated backgrounds because of unconscious bias," author Ruchika Tulshyan explains in a recent Harvard Business Review article. "Changes in process and diversity initiatives alone are not going to remedy the lack of equal representation in companies. Individual managers who are often making the final hiring decisions need to address their own bias."

This can be difficult to do. If you're in charge of hiring candidates, however, you can help your company recognize and reduce bias in the hiring process by using what Tulshyan calls the "flip it to test" approach.

"In 2017, Fortune 500 executive Kristen Pressner gave a brave TEDx talk, where she admitted to harboring gender bias against women leaders despite identifying as a woman herself," Tulshyan says. "Pressner developed a technique to disrupt bias -- ask yourself, if you were to swap out the candidate from an underrepresented background with one of your more typical hires, would you have the same reaction? For example, if a woman of color candidate speaks passionately, and you're less inclined to hire her because you think of her as 'angry,' would you use the same word if a white man spoke the same way?"

Tulshyan has seen the technique work firsthand in her own company. In a recent hiring decision that she was involved in, an internal candidate who happened to be a woman of color was invited to apply for an open position.

"Since the organization was already familiar with her work and performance, the hiring manager saw no harm in having her skip the early parts of the hiring process. But some colleagues expressed concern about 'bending the rules' for her," recalls Tulshyan, who asked the hiring committee if it would have the same reservations if the candidate were a white male, and if it had expressed similar concerns when promoting internal candidates in the past -- even when those candidates were white men. "In both cases, the hiring committee unanimously answered: no. We were able to recognize our bias and eventually made an offer to the candidate."

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