Turns out… we’re all riddled with biases. Newsflash! While we secretly wish that wasn’t the case and/or that we were somehow above it, we’re not. And for the cynics amongst us, allow me a moment to prove it to you. Imagine a scenario for me… you’re interviewing candidates for a critical role within your organization. During polite conversation the candidate says…
- “… and I love country music.” Without hesitation, your brainmouse deducts 30 IQ points. Nothing personal, but ignorant people like country music. Did any of the last 100 Nobel Prize winners love country music? Nope.
- “… and I love classical music.” Your brainmouse adds 30 IQ points. Only smart people enjoy classical music. Classical music goes with good cheese, great wine, and fine art. Like duh.
- “… and I love jazz.” Your brainmouse is confused but secretly thinks the candidate is pretty damn cool. After all, only cool people get jazz. You know… the game within the game within the game of music. Musicians playing instruments with no sheet music. How effin cool is that?
- “… and I love hip hop.” Your brainmouse scans the race of the candidate. If the candidate is African American (or close), then the selection makes sense. If the candidate is anything other than that, then your brainmouse automatically thinks the candidate is wannabe. No one likes wannabes.
- “… and I love opera.” Your brainmouse is even more confused than if the candidate would have liked jazz. Let’s face it… opera is only for rich white people. Damn, come to think of it, not sure our comp strategy will work for this candidate. Double turds.
- “… and I love alternative music.” Your brainmouse snickers a bit. Like college music? They still make that? Grow up, loser. Let.it.go.
- “… and I love classic rock.” Your brainmouse notes… no way this dude gets the job BUT might be
a good source for Purple Kush in the future. File this in the good sources are hard to find folder.
Funny but true… everyone has a brainmouse that makes decisions for them. No way around it and anyone that proclaims to have no biases is 100% full of shit. Nothing personal.
IMO, when it comes to biases, you have two options: (1) act as if you’re somehow super human and thusly have no biases, or (2) own your biases.
No logical and/or rational case for option 1. Furthermore, if you really think option 1 is viable… do me a personal favor and never interact with me. Nuff said. As for option 2, this path is all about the relationship between understanding and fear. For the consultants among us, think of fear and understanding as a 2 x 2 grid. Draw that out on a napkin at lunch… you know, trying to get to the top right corner where “no fear” meets “has understanding.” I digress.
Now, let’s explore the music example from earlier… if you snickered while reading any of the seven examples, then you are biased. Truth hurts. To overcome this particular bias, reach out to people you admire who love different music than you do and ask them for education (read: why do you like this?). Translation: open yourself up to new things sans judgment. Truth is… it might not change the fact that you like to listen to Morrissey when you are sad, BUT at the very least you’ll know when you’re judging a candidate unfairly. And, you’ll take the power away from your inner brainmouse.
I know, I know. By now, you’ve figured out that I’m using “music bias” as a metaphor for all of our secret biases.
IMO, understanding is easy… you admit you have a problem… seek help, take meds, etc. Rinse and repeat for all your biases. Admitting your fears is not as easy, especially, when they are deeply embedded in things like race, gender, class, identity, religious preference, sexual preference, etc. No easy answer or solution… but it all starts with admitting that you have a problem. And by the way, admit it to yourself first then work on it. Over time and, more importantly, when you are comfortable discussing it with others – then do so. You will slowly eradicate your house of most biases. In some ways, you should become comfortable with your biases, not ignore and/or be ashamed of them.
Note to self: when hunting biases… no magic bullets exist. And, again, we’re ALL plagued with biases… so take some comfort in that.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.