Using Assessment Technology to Combat Unconscious Bias

What is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious bias is a reflection of snap judgments developed over time as a result of our upbringing, culture, environmental conditions and experiences. Simplistically referred to as stereotypes, unconscious bias is challenging because we make these judgments without realizing it.

Types of Unconscious Bias

While unconscious bias can appear in many different forms, the following are the most common and how they manifest themselves in the workplace:

  • Halo and Horns Effects – this tendency emphasizes the outstanding attributes of a candidate or employee by letting the ”halo” of that attribute cloud our overall opinion of the person. The “horns” effect is the opposite – allowing someone’s negative attributes to overshadow their positives.
  • Compare/Contrast Effects – comparing and contrasting helps provide context, but comparing candidates or employees against each other based on subjective criteria can lead to false conclusions.
  • Confirmation Bias – Like the Compare/Contrast effect, confirmation bias involves utilizing subjective criteria to confirm initial impressions of an individual. We have a tendency to seek out information that supports our opinion and dismiss information that does not.
  • Affinity Bias – this reflects our desire to seek out individuals who are similar to us in some way because it makes them easier to relate to or we assume that such individuals will automatically be a good fit for the role or organization.

There is one common aspect these four types of unconscious bias have in common – subjectivity. To limit the effect subjectivity can have, seek to develop talent selection strategies that utilize objective systems that focus on data.

Assessments Eliminate Bias

The use of assessments is one way an employer can reduce bias in the selection process. A properly developed and validated assessment test doesn’t take into consideration where a candidate went to school or other background characteristics that might influence an interviewer. Instead, it will provide a fair and objective picture of how a candidate might perform in a role.

To ensure that the assessment utilized provides an all encompassing view of the candidate, it should combine measurements of both aptitudes and behaviors. Aptitude assessments ensure that the individual possesses the mental abilities to handle the role, while a personality questionnaire offers insight into whether the candidate has the behavioral traits necessary for success in the role and will fit well within the organization framework.

Additionally, the assessment should provide structured interview guides related to the individual’s assessment results. An interviewer should always ask structured, competency and/or strengths-based questions that probe for the desired attitudes and behaviors. These structured questions will guard against any inappropriate probes that might be biased or worse, violate employment law. Behavioral interview questions will generate probing questions that hiring managers can ask to check and verify each candidate’s competencies, behaviors and suitability. Used in this way, properly developed, validated and implemented assessment can provide the objectivity employers need to combat unconscious bias.

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