Implicit bias can undermine a search committee’s desire to create a fair and equitable hiring process. When search committee members rush decisions or do not monitor themselves for implicit biases, it can result in the uneven application of job criteria, judgments based on non-relevant criteria, and cognitive shortcuts that are often created by implicit biases.
To reduce the impact of implicit bias in the initial candidate review, the following countermeasures are recommended:
- Prior to application review, redact candidate names, which often signal gender and sometimes even race, ethnicity, or national origin. Research suggests that sex-based stereotypes can negatively affect female candidates in the hiring process, and underrepresented candidates, such as those with Arab/Muslim or African American-sounding names, are less likely to be chosen to progress in the hiring process than white candidates. While HR does not have the capacity to scrub application materials of candidate names, the search committee chair may consider asking a third party to replace names with “Candidate A”, “Candidate B”, etc. before the committee begins to evaluate them.
- Consider engaging in a multistep "equity review": (a) separate candidates that didn't meet job qualifications from those that did, (b) do a second review of those that didn't meet qualifications to make sure that no one was missed and giving assurance that all applicants were subjected to an equitable process, and (c) recognize that the review of those candidates the search committee elects to move forward with may be subjected to forms of implicit bias (e.g., academic credentials, graduate school or academic experience, geographic bias, etc.). An equity review is an alternative to the usual practice in which search committees start by identifying the most desirable candidates.
- Allocate enough time for a well-balanced and thoughtful decision-making process, including adequate time to review application materials and building in breaks to counter cognitive fatigue. Make sure you are also spending equal time on all candidates.
- Review collectively agreed upon and well-developed job-specific criteria before looking at application materials. Research indicates that implicit biases can play a role in shifting criteria that favor candidates from dominant groups, but commitment to predetermined criteria can counterbalance the effects of bias. Develop and utilize a common rubric to summarize each candidate’s relative strengths and weaknesses based on the criteria.
- Recognizing that no one is immune to implicit biases, actively work to counteract your own biases. Several research-based strategies include the following: a) engage in “counter-stereotypic” mental imagery – taking time to consciously think about successful women, people of color and other underrepresented people on our campus – prior to engaging in the evaluation process; and b) during the candidate review, monitor yourself for implicit biases. In particular, be wary of confirmation bias, a phenomenon in which we unconsciously seek out information that supports an initial thought and selectively screen out information that would prove otherwise. Being mindful of your thoughts can help you make your unconscious biases conscious. (See this approximately five minute video on mindfulness and stereotype replacement.)
- Review the “short list” for underrepresentation of various groups in your field - again, HR can provide you with racial/ethnic and other demographic information about your pool (not individual candidates). Do you need to be more proactive to recruit a more diverse pool of candidates before moving forward with interviews? Take time for reflection as a group and continue searching, if warranted, to enrich the pool. Remember to reference the job board sites that target underrepresented affinity groups [See APPENDIX B].