Dodging the interviewer bias bullet
Candidates are getting more switched on about unconscious bias in the recruitment process and are becoming more aware of interviewer bias in particular. So how should organisations respond and what should they expect? After decades of being asked sexist and often illegal questions in interviews about having/not having children and being married or otherwise, is the pendulum finally swinging for women?
The question is now being asked, not if candidates should be able to check for interviewer bias, but how.
Research shows that men with daughters who are married to, or partnered with, women who have careers, are more likely to support gender balance in their organisations. So should female candidates try and find out the private circumstances of their bosses in an interview to establish any potential interviewer bias? Women are judged more harshly by their appearance, and whether they wear make-up or are overweight. There is a growing belief that organisations may have a nicely published mission statement, but this is not reflected in how the culture of the company really works. Remember it is not just men who exhibit unconscious bias, but women too.
Margie says that as a “curvy African-American woman” she has at least three potential biases that could work against her, so she always does thorough research on the company before she goes to any interview. “I always check out the social media content of any hiring manager. I look at their LinkedIn profiles for the professional detail, but also their streams, especially to see the type of comment they make. American society is very polarized today.
Sometimes their Facebook pages are open and their Twitter feed will reveal more about them. I ask the hiring manager to tell them a bit about themselves in any interview, including their hobbies. Sometimes they talk about their families. It’s important to know if they are likely to be predisposed to any bias. I check with the HR rep to see if unconscious bias awareness training is part of their diversity policy. Companies talk the talk, but we know that diversity isn’t happening.”
Within a company biases still apply. Tina works in the Digital Media practise of an international consulting firm. Only 10% of her department was female when it was set up and although the number has increased to 25%, the tone is still male. She was recently turned down for a promotion to the next level because Triss her manager “didn’t think she was ready.”
She disagrees and believes that he is exhibiting unconscious bias on a number of issues, mainly relating to her age and gender. Triss is in his late 30s, with a stay at home wife. Tina felt that he didn’t look at the hard facts of her achievements and had made up his mind about her promotion even before the interview had begun. Although the number of women in the department has gone up, they were brought in by Triss’ predecessor, a woman. Tina believes that Triss, at an unconscious level, not related to fact, is reluctant to promote her and so she has now appealed the decision.
Lehanne concurs. She also checks out the ratio of women in leadership roles and any D & I policies. She looks for signs that would suggest a serious commitment to any corporate initiatives such as mentoring programs and access to training and development. She checks out social proofing sites and talks to her network.
All women agreed that having uncomfortable conversations are often necessary to avoid getting caught out in an organisation which only pays lip service to gender balance and inclusion. Sometimes offence is taken and there is a real risk of not receiving an offer. But as Margie said: “I’ve dodged a few bullets by trying to get a handle on what’s really going on. Candidates are quizzed and tested in depth. They should expect us to do our research. It’s going to become the new normal”