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Unconscious Bias Training Isn't the Silver Bullet For a Biased Hiring Process

Unconscious Bias Training Isn't the Silver Bullet For a Biased Hiring Process

The latest fashion trend with most of my clients is Unconscious Bias Training. While those trainings are interesting and engaging, and may raise awareness about various biases, there's little evidence to their effectiveness in eliminating those. This is well explained in Diversity and Inclusion specialist's Lisa Kepinski's article, Unconscious Bias Awareness Training is Hot, But the Outcome is Not: So What to Do About It?

Lisa outlines two problems with these trainings:

  1. The "So What?" effect: having done the training, leaders and HR professionals alike remain at loss for the next steps that could deliver a sustainable cultural change, and
  2. The training may backfire by encouraging more biased thinking and behaviors (by conditioning the stereotypes). Moreover, "by hearing that others are biased and it's ‘natural’ to hold stereotypes, we feel less motivated to change biases and stereotypes are strengthened (‘follow the herd’ bias)."

Lisa's key recommendation: remove bias by design. I.e. instead of fixing the people, fix the environment and the processes in which they are inserted. She calls this methodology Inclusion Nudges.

A Case In Point

At a top consulting firm, the pre-interview phase required a shortened version of the GMAT math test. Female candidates, on average, scored lower on this test and were therefore eliminated before even getting interviewed, resulting in hiring many more men than women.

A typical company's approach: We focus on meritocracy; the test selected the best candidates and there's no problem with that.

This company's approach: Let's select 10% of top male candidates and 10% of top female candidates to interview from the test pool.

Outcome: Female candidates performed better in later group dynamic exercises and passed the interview phase with flying colors. Their overall share among new hires increased with this simple rule change.

[Related: Out-Designing Bias to Achieve Gender Parity]

Some Food For Thought

Here are some some questions we should be asking about the selected decision criteria, to define what merit really means for an organization and how to better measure it:

Does the entry assessment test relevant knowledge, and what's the value of testing how quickly a candidate can figure out an answer to a standardized test? 

Does the test really reflect a candidate's ability to succeed in a business environment? Emotional intelligence (something that women normally score higher on) can be just as critical for professions that require a lot of social interactions (such as consultants or managers).

And finally, why do women score lower on the assessment? Are they less capable in math than men (they aren't.)? Or, perhaps there is another influencing factor? Like time stress, for example?


Miriam Grobman Consulting works with organizations that want to advance more talented women into leadership roles by breaking cultural barriers and giving them the right skills to be successful. Their approach is data-driven, global and collaborative. Click here to discuss the right strategy for your organization. You can follow their Facebook page, Leadership and Women, for inspiring stories about women leaders and practical career advice and sign up for their newsletter.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


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