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Why Companies Should Root Out Unconscious Biases in Pursuing Diversity and Inclusion Goals

  • Research finds that companies are still prone to unconscious biases even if they voice a commitment to diversity and inclusion
  • Study looks at companies that are typically matched with candidates instead of receiving applications from the public at large
  • Employers more likely to give positive ratings to factors determined by socioeconomic prosperity, and expect that women and minorities are less likely to accept a job offer

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

Companies are prone to unconscious biases in their hiring practices even if they have committed to being a diverse and inclusive workplace, according to research by professors at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Judd B. Kessler and Corrinne Low say that while there has long been evidence that employers may be less likely to consider applications with names suggesting the candidate is Black. Their research specifically looks at the hiring practices among larger institutions that have connections with academic institutions and other organizations, are more likely to be matched with job candidates than to receive cold applications, and have made a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Kessler and Low developed a process to invite firms to rate resumes based on randomly selected characteristics, then used the responses to match them with real job seekers. Companies were most likely to rate factors such as a high GPA, attendance at a prestigious school, and internship experience with a major company as favorable criteria.

The researchers suggest that these preferences inadvertently create a bias, as companies are drawn more to factors associated with socioeconomic prosperity, which may disproportionately skew their preferences away from minority candidates. Summer employment was also not associated with any increase in employer ratings.

In addition, the study found that companies expressing diversity and inclusion values showed no preference for women or minority candidates, with employers in STEM fields rating these candidates lower than white males. Employers were also more likely to say they expected that women or minorities would not accept a job offer, which would likely reduce their likelihood of scheduling an interview with these candidates.

Kessler and Low say some of the biases may be attributed to misconceptions, such as employer beliefs that it’s easier for women or minorities to receive an internship or that there will be greater competition for these candidates from other companies with diversity and inclusion values. They suggest that companies be slower and more deliberate in their review of job applications, screen resumes to remove factors that could identify an applicant’s race or gender, and take a critical look at their overall hiring process to see if it needs improvement.

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