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Overcoming Hiring Biases: Tips on how to increase your diversity hires

Diversity is an important issue when considering hiring practices. In particular, women and minorities are still unrepresented in STEM fields, with a 2015 New York Times article stating that representation for both remains bleak in those industries: women make up half of the workforce but only 26 percent of STEM-related jobs, Hispanics make up 15 percent of the workforce but only hold 7 percent of industry jobs, and African-Americans 11 percent of the workforce and 6 percent of STEM jobs, nationwide.

A Deloitte report, “Global Human Capital Trends” from 2014 stated that diversity and inclusion were consistently ranked as a low-importance HR issue among business leaders. On the contrary, diversity hiring is an extremely important issue: Deloitte also released a study that found diversity hires tend to keep perspectives fresh in a company, keeping potentially disastrous groupthink and expert overconfidence from occurring. A diverse workforce means more insight and a higher likelihood of seeing a problem from a different viewpoint.

In order to address and hopefully help solve some of these issues, the Women’s Tech Council held its Talent Innovation Summit in February 2016, including a panel on how to recruit and promote diversity in companies. The panelists included Jill Layfield, former CEO of Backcountry.com; Dianne Rivera, vice president of talent acquisition at Goldman Sachs; Denise Leleux, vice president of global services in North America and Europe for eBay; and Alison Lutjemeier, senior manager at Adobe. Here are some of their insights.

Tell recruiters what you’re looking for.

If your company is sending out recruiters to college campuses, have them reach out to a variety of student groups and attend a broad array of student events. Broadening your net will send a message that your company is inclusive and eager to hire someone who may not have otherwise applied based on preconceived notions of your industry or company.

“We go out and do a lot of different events on campus, and we bring in every year close to 50 percent—if not a little bit higher—of women hires into Goldman Sachs,” says Rivera.

“Tell your recruiters that you will only accept a diverse slate of candidates,” adds Leleux.

Work to eliminate unconscious biases.

Companies like Google, Pinterest and Airbnb have begun training their employees to overcome unconscious biases. A 2012 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America showed that science faculty favored applications with male names over female names, even though both applications were otherwise identical, and a University of Chicago study showed similar results with applications using stereotypically white names (e.g. Brendan) versus stereotypically African-American names (e.g. Jamal).

In order to combat this, Leleux suggests having people manually eliminate names from résumés, while Layfield says technology is being developed to take names and other subtly gender-coded words out of résumés to ensure the best candidates get selected.

“I cover the names of all the résumés or CVs that I get so that I won’t be influenced by gender,” says Leleux. “We actually have a list of words that we know that more women will use versus men to talk about their performance and what they’ve achieved. [We’re] trying to remove some of those unconscious biases about how women might write their résumé versus men.”

Have a diverse panel of interviewers.

Nobody wants to feel token or out of place at work. When interviewing a diverse slate of candidates, realize that your interviewing panel cannot be homogenous—or else, you run the risk of making your interviewee wonder whether there will really be an inclusive place for them at work, should they accept the position.

“You cannot have an all-male interview panel [if you want to recruit women,]” says Rivera, who adds that when she interviewed at Goldman Sachs, her first five interviewers were male. It wasn’t until the sixth interviewer was female that she began to feel comfortable and positive about the company.

Realize that different things put different candidates at ease.

Retaining your employees can be as simple as letting them know you understand their individual needs and lifestyles. A company is more likely to retain—and get the best out of—a working mother, for instance, if they allow her to have flexible hours or provide childcare.

When interviewing applicants, know that women tend to perform better in situations where they’ve met or spoken with their interviewer previously. Rivera says Goldman Sachs goes the extra mile to put interviewees at ease.

“When we do interviews, we’ll call them a Super Day and we’ll have 20 people come and interview. The night before, we’ll have a networking event. Women, we’ve found, like to come in and meet who they’re going to interview with,” says Rivera. “Having those events the night before usually helps especially the women feel comfortable the next day coming back into our offices to interview. They’ve already met that person. They feel comfortable talking about themselves because they’ve already done it. They see what the office looks like. That has yielded better numbers in our female recruiting. That’s been a game-changer for us.”