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Avoiding Micro Inequities When Recruiting

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October 23, 2021

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Micro-inequities and micro-aggressions are two types of unconscious biases getting a lot of attention these days. They can seep into the recruiting process, causing recruiters to make bad decisions and a lack of talent pool diversity.

While micro-inequities and micro-aggressions stem from unconscious beliefs, they’re actually behaviors. They can be a gesture, a comment, use of specific words, or even a tone of voice. 

They’re not an overt form of discrimination; they’re subtle, small, and seemingly trivial. Because they are, it can easily be brushed off as petty slights, minor annoyances, or a troubling lack of manners.

However, the results of micro-inequities and microaggressions are far from insignificant, causing employees to feel devalued and marginalized. Over time, their insidious effect becomes so powerful that those victimized by them end up leaving the companies they work for.

What’s the difference between micro-inequities and micro-aggressions?

A micro-inequity is an action or comment that demeans a single individual. In contrast, a micro-aggression targets an entire group of people. Here are some examples of micro-inequities:

  • Intentionally mispronouncing someone’s name
  • Disregarding someone’s comments during a meeting
  • Leaving someone out of social gatherings

Here are a few micro-aggression examples:

  • Complimenting a person on their English just because they’re not white
  • Deliberately not using a transgender person’s preferred pronouns
  • Using outdated and offensive terms like, “That’s so gay”

The genesis of negative micro-behavior

Micro-inequities and micro-aggressions are driven by unconscious beliefs.  That's because, unfortunately, most people are divinely oblivious of what they really think about others. 

These behaviors stemming from unconscious biases occur because people surround themselves with people they trust. These are also people they like because they seem the most like themselves.

This means that many people live in a bubble. Those who happen to live outside it are the ones who get unconsciously targeted. Because micro-aggressions and micro-inequities are so subtle, they’re often only witnessed by the individuals who suffer from their impact.

How cultivating self-awareness helps

All too often, HR personnel tell micro-inequity and micro-aggression victims not to make a big deal out of it, saying they’re being oversensitive. If the victim persists, people start seeing them as overly angry and a bad organizational fit.

The way to avoid unconscious biases in the workplace is to become more conscious of the possibility of making them. Once this happens, the only time they're likely to occur is when an individual makes decisions quickly, under pressure, or when multitasking.

Let's say you catch yourself losing your self-awareness because you’re rushing around. In that case, it's probably best to take a breather and regain your composure. This will minimize the chances of any more negative micro-behaviors happening.

Creating more inclusive behaviors

An individual can use their newfound awareness as an opportunity to cultivate more inclusive behaviors. For example, when welcoming a new member to a meeting, they can physically step back to allow them to have a space in the group or pull up a chair so they can join.

An individual can also use affirmative gestures while smiling when asking someone from a minority group to speak up. If you encourage someone to express their opinion, you can communicate trust by using positive body language and active listening techniques.

This means leaning slightly towards them, making eye contact, and paraphrasing what they say. All of this lets them know that what they’re contributing is important.

When you eliminate micro-inequities from your behavioral repertoire, you treat people like they matter. If you notice other employees still engaging in micro-inequities, speak up and give them some feedback. Tell them the effect their behavior has on other team members.

Why unconscious biases linger

Organizations devote lots of time, effort, and money to eradicate overt bias from their work environment. The good news is that blatant discrimination has been all but eliminated from the workplace. However, unconscious biases are still ever-present when it comes to hiring, promotion, and performance reviews.

These biases can cause supervisors to make wildly inaccurate judgments. This can have a corrosive effect on work relationships with people of color, team members with disabilities, and LGBT employees.

Until recently, many considered the unfairness arising from unconscious bias to be merely a nuisance. That's because, unlike overt discrimination, it can be challenging to see.

Unconscious bias is one reason discrimination in hiring practices still exists. That continues to be the case even though most discriminatory practices have been abolished. Interestingly, organizations can also exhibit unconscious behavior, which is why it's been challenging to create inclusive corporate cultures.

Why not all unconscious biases are bad

Everyone has unconscious biases because they're part of being human. Furthermore, not every unconscious bias is terrible. They're a relic of the "fight or flight" reflex that has helped homo sapiens to survive for thousands of years. Individuals are exposed to over 11 million pieces of discrete information daily. However, they can only process about 40 at a time.

Hidden biases are mental shortcuts that allow for quicker decisions.

People think they make most of their decisions rationally. However, this isn’t true because, like it or not, most decisions are emotional ones.

Unconscious biases reflect belief patterns that are so deeply ingrained, it’s difficult to grasp their effect on the decision-making process. We would love to believe that there’s congruency between our decisions and our conscious beliefs. However, in reality, we are ruled by our unconscious desires.

The cost of unconscious bias

Biased hiring decisions can create an alarming lack of diversity in teams. Because fewer possible perspectives are represented, creativity and innovation tend to get stifled. Research has demonstrated that companies perform better when there's greater ethnic and gender diversity.

Types of workplace bias

Gender bias is present in our beliefs about the role of women and men in the workplace. It means unconsciously adhering to certain social norms about who can fill jobs.

Another bias that all too often creeps into the recruiting process is racial bias. Often, individuals make a racial judgment merely from reading a name on a resume.

Scholastic bias is something not too many people talk about, yet it exists. This unconscious bias favors particular colleges and disfavors others based on how "intellectual" they might seem.  

Eliminating unconscious recruiting bias

Researchers at MIT and the University of Chicago distributed resumes to 1,250 employers advertising openings and indicating they were looking for more diversity in their workplaces. Some resumes had names that were more common among Blacks, while others had monikers that were ubiquitous among Whites. 

The names were further broken down into two groups: highly skilled and those with average professional ability. The resumes with names that were more common with Whites got 50% more callbacks than the other group.

Furthermore, average ability candidates with names more common among Whites received more interviews than highly skilled applicants with names more common among Blacks.

Unconscious biases that pop up during recruitment efforts impact our perceptions of others. They affect who we invite for an interview, why we hire them, and how we interact with them when they’re eventually hired.

Selecting candidates shouldn’t be the only time you eliminate unconscious bias. You should go further back and try to reduce the bias when you source your talent. This is particularly important when talent shortages and skill gaps create a sub-optimal talent pool.

Here are some other ways to avoid unconscious biases when recruiting:

Anonymize shortlisting

Shortlisting job candidates is a critical stage in the hiring process. That's why we should make every effort to minimize the impact of unconscious bias when deciding which candidates get an interview.

A particularly good way of doing this is by anonymizing the data. You can program recruiting software to do this automatically. This strips candidate information of any personal identifiers before a hiring manager even has a chance to lay eyes on it.   

Standardize interviews

The interview is where we finally get to meet the individual behind the resume. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when unconscious biases can rear their ugly head. We can minimize the chances of that happening by standardizing the interview process.

This means having the same format for every interview, which consists of asking the same questions each time and giving each candidate the same amount of time. This helps us to judge applicants purely on factors that relate directly to work performance.

Analyze language choice

Language can have an undeniably powerful effect on job candidates. This affects not only how applicants see recruiters but also how diverse the talent is that's applying. For example, job descriptions often use overtly masculine language, such as using the words "strong" or "competitive." 

This inhibits some women from submitting their resumes. Because it can be challenging to monitor your words for gender bias, software programs can flag it for you, replacing it with more neutral language.

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