The Case for Prevention Policies

Nicholas Fortuna, October 1, 2014.

Google is making it a high priority to uncover unintended bias at the workplace and in hiring. Unconscious bias in hiring may lead to liability under federal and state employment law. Prevention policies, when properly implemented and followed, will avoid such biases from creeping into the decision making process. If the employer’s hiring policies include listing the qualities sought in a candidate in advance and follow a structured process, it is less likely that the employer will discriminate in hiring, and it is less likely the evaluator’s biases will seep in and infect the process. The more free-wheeling the hiring process is, the more likely decisions are going to be made based on unconscious bias rather than a candidate’s qualifications.

The New York Times reported in its September 24, 2012 edition about a Yale University study that science professors at American universities regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills. As a result, the report found that professors were less likely to offer women mentoring or a job. When they did offer a job, the salary was lower. As part of the study, professors were given the same one page summary, which portrayed the applicant as “promising.” In half of the summaries the applicant’s name was John and the other half Jennifer. On average, John was rated higher than Jennifer on a scale of 1 to 7 and John was offered a higher salary.

High technology companies have become a focus since there are so few women and minorities in leadership or management level positions. Recently the New York Times reported that 70% of the employees at Apple are male; as are 69% of the employees at Facebook; 70% at Google; 70% at Twitter; and 62% at Yahoo.  Research has shown diversity in the workplace leads to better decisions. The lack of diversity, on the other hand, could lead to charges of discrimination, costly litigation, and liability.  Companies are starting to address this kind of bias in the workplace.

Google has reportedly been aggressive in trying to expose hidden bias to improve diversity and creativity. It has identified four steps to tackling unconscious bias:

  1. Gather facts. Collect data on things like gender representation in action, communication, doodles, conferences, etc.  Measure improvements over time.
  2. Create structure for making decisions. Define clear criteria to evaluate the merits of each option (candidate), and use them consistently. Using the same standards to evaluate all options can reduce bias. Use of structured interviews in hiring, applying the same selection evaluation methods for all.
  3. Be mindful of subtle cues. Who’s included (gender, race, etc.) and who’s excluded.
  4. Foster awareness. Hold yourself and your colleagues accountable.

Prevention policies are more than just calling out bias.  Prevention also includes having rules in place that implement the criteria for making decisions and ensures compliance with anti-discrimination laws. Each employer is unique and is exposed to different risks. Preventative counseling ensures that employers are aware of the laws applicable to their particular business, know and understand prohibited employment practices, and establish policies that are in compliance with the law. Obtaining counseling on proper employment practices and policies is an effective way for employers to shield themselves from employment-related claims.






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