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How unconscious bias impacts IT recruiting and hiring

Sharon Florentine | May 21, 2015
Organizations have made great strides tackling overt discrimination and creating more inclusive working environments. But what's harder to identify, and harder to change, are unconscious biases that have an equally detrimental effect on recruiting and hiring, as well as the everyday work environment.

unconscious bias in recruiting

Making recruiting and hiring decisions based on a candidate's height sounds ludicrous, right? And yet, according to research from Timothy A. Judge and Daniel M. Cable, published in the June 2004 issue of Journal of Applied Psychology, there's a perception that height correlates with success. While only 15 percent of American men are taller than six feet, more than 60 percent of corporate CEOs are over six feet tall.

Judge and Cable's research also shows that, when adjusted for age and gender, each extra inch of height is worth approximately $789 per year in increased salary.

As Howard Ross, co-founder and chief learning officer of consulting firm Cook Ross asserts in this brief on diversity and inclusion, "It seems not only unfair, but patently absurd to choose a CEO because of height, just like it is unfair and absurd to give employees lower performance evaluations solely because they are overweight. Or to prescribe medical procedures to people more often because of their race. Or to treat the same people different ways because of their clothing. Or even to call on boys more often than girls when they raise their hands in school. And yet, all of these things continuously happen, and they are but a small sampling of the hundreds of ways we make decisions every day in favor of one group, and to the detriment of others, without even realizing we're doing it."

The challenges of unconscious biases
These all are examples of unconscious bias, says Valeria Stokes, chief human resources officer and staff diversity officer for the American Bar Association. Speaking at TLNT and ERE Media's High Performance Workforce Summit in Atlanta earlier this month, Stokes explained that while businesses have made great strides toward eliminating overt discrimination and bias, there are still challenges when it comes to unconscious biases.

"There's sill a paucity of racial, gender and sexual orientation demographics in leadership or in decision-making roles. We still see inequality in hiring, promotions and salaries. And many managers are ill-prepared to handle diversity issues," says Stokes.

No one wants to think of themselves as biased, says Stokes, and most workers truly believe that they're not racist, sexist, age-ist or any of the other "-ists" that can be used to label a person as intolerant and prejudiced. But the fact is, humans are biologically wired to be biased, and to quickly categorize the world -- and other people in it -- based on pre-conceived notions.

"To put it simplistically, our ancestors had to quickly assess their surroundings and make decisions about whether something or someone was dangerous or safe. And the same is true, to a different extent, today. Without these biases, we'd have so much trouble making sense of the world," Stokes says.


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