A competitive global marketplace demands an understanding of diverse regions and cultures, hence your workforce needs to reflect the diversity of your market. While “think outside the box” has become cliché, it has become cliché for a reason. If your hires are mirror images of yourself, you will be trapped in a narrow tunnel of ideas, an echo chamber of limited thought. Although you may actively seek to build a diverse workforce, subconscious biases may influence your hiring decisions. You want dynamic and talented employees, however, your internalized beliefs about gender, race and ethnicity, beliefs you may not realize you hold, can cause you to overlook excellent candidates.

Numerous studies have looked at how biases affect hiring decisions. A 2014 Columbia Business School study found that men were twice as likely as women to be hired for positions requiring math skills even though women performed as well as men on an arithmetic task. Study authors site implicit stereotyping as the reason. In a classic study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, fake resumes were sent in response to help wanted ads in Chicago and Boston newspapers. Some resumes had names that sounded African American, while others had white-sounding names. The resumes from apparent white applicants received 50 percent more callbacks than the ones that appeared to be from African American applicants. A Canadian study found applicants with non-English last names received fewer callbacks for interviews. Are subconscious biases causing you to deselect applicants who may have excellent qualifications?

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Review the language in your job postings

Building a diverse workforce begins with the language you use in your job postings. As an employer, you are aware that the Civil Rights Act prohibits job ads from showing preference in gender, religion, age or national origin. You may even add the “We are an equal opportunity employer” tag to your listings. However, how you describe the job and criteria could attract or drive away well-qualified applicants. Help wanted ads should list desired behaviors, not personality types. For example, rather than state you are seeking an ambitious go-getter for the position — this language may put off applicants whose culture emphasizes modesty — think in terms of behaviors, such as “ability to take initiative.”

Remove names from resumes

If possible, have your HR people remove names from resumes before sending them on to you. This will help you to review qualifications unhindered by bias. If you do not have an HR department and handle the selection process yourself, review the resumes you have set in the “no” pile. What were your reasons for deselecting? Was it qualifications or something else?

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Offer applicants a challenge

If an open position requires a specific skill set, require applicants to complete a quiz or challenge to demonstrate their skills before you collect any other information. This could be the first step in identifying talent and weeding out the unqualified.

You will eventually need to meet job candidates in person, but by applying rigorous methods to compare qualifications and purposefully setting aside non-relevant information such as race and gender, you will have a more diverse slate of applicants to interview. If you come away from an interview with the feeling the applicant is not a good fit for your company or the position, do not ignore your gut instincts. The sense that something isn’t right comes from your years of experiences. You do want to analyze that feeling though to ensure a prejudice is not the source of the unease, which may cause you to overlook the perfect candidate for the job.


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This article was written by Gillian Burdett for CBS Small Business Pulse.