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How to Mitigate Bias During the Executive Recruiting Process

Thaddeus Andres - July 20, 2020

Recent studies from the past 2 years show that less than 25% of C-Suite positions are held by females and less than 16% of C-Suite positions are held by racially diverse executives. Too often this unfortunate consequence can be attributed to bias during the executive recruitment process.

We can consider bias, in this case, to be a facet of human nature often stemming from a place of subconscious thought. If left unchecked, bias can significantly impact the quality of the executive placement and result in a poor workplace culture not to mention a lack of diversity in the overall industry.

The good news is that diversity and inclusion are becoming a matter of great importance for many companies and recruiters alike. The percentage of diverse executives holding C-Suite positions continues to increase year after year and executive search firms should take it upon themselves to ensure these numbers keep climbing.

So how does one mitigate bias from the hiring process? Below we’ve listed some of the areas throughout the executive recruitment process where bias is prevalent and how you can mitigate this bias moving forward.

When Presenting a Long List to Your Clients

It’s early in the search process, you’re conducting research, and you're curating a long list of candidates to present to your client. However, before presenting this long list to your client, you want to eliminate the risk of biased evaluations. All you need to do is remove or anonymize identifying factors such as:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Photos
  • Biographical information

Using recruiting software like Clockwork, you can leverage the project’s settings to hide these identifiers, or turn them OFF. That way when your client logs in to the collaboration portal, their view is limited to the information most pertinent to their high-level evaluations such as resumes and basic qualifications.

When Drafting the Job Description

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as gender-coded wording. Simply put, gender-coded words are words that resonate differently with each gender. For example, the words active, driven, and objective are considered masculine coded words whereas interpersonal, support, and inclusive are considered feminine-coded words.

Keep this in mind when drafting a job description meant to attract a diverse range of candidates. Ensure you are using a neutral language and note how changes in the job description language affect candidate attraction. 

When Conducting Research

Aside from mitigating your client's bias, you need to think about how to mitigate your own bias as well. Taking precautions on your end as the executive search firm to remain unbiased is critical which is why Clockwork has partnered with Ai4JOBS to make this task easier. 

Ai4JOBS provides candidate research services that enable you to source candidates by removing bias and identifying the best talent that matches the research criteria, skills, and experience specific to the role.

When Assessing Candidate Qualifications

No matter if you're assessing the candidate's qualifications early in the search project or later on, these assessments should be as quantifiable as possible. Even an assessment of likeability, something inherently qualitative, should be quantified on a numerical scale.

The reason for this being that a weighty decision such as an executive hire must be justified beyond any doubt. There must be concrete evidence that they have every qualification needed to succeed and thrive in the role. Justifying a placement because they 'had a better presence than the last person' is a result of an unstructured recruitment process. It will also likely result in the placement leaving the role sooner than intended because they weren't a good fit to begin with.

Criteria Scorecards in Clockwork are an excellent way of evaluating candidates numerically on a five-point scale and based on relevant criteria. They are most helpful in ranking candidates from most to least qualified based on an average rating that you can then present to clients in a Candidate Assessment Report.

When Generating Client Facing Reports

With diversity and inclusion in the workplace becoming more important, clients are placing more weight behind diversity metrics as they pertain to their executive search projects.

This is where you need to show your client that you value diversity as much as they do. Start by compiling all the data you have on the diversity of your past placements as well as your talent pools. Clockwork's Custom Fields feature allows you to do just that by creating, tracking, and analyzing custom diversity fields most pertinent to your client's project including but not limited to:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity / Race
  • Nationality
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Veteran Status

You can then make this information available in the project's dashboard to keep your clients aware of the diversity of the candidates while still maintaining their anonymity. Learn more about How To Showcase Your Expertise In Diversity & Inclusion For Executive Search.

At some point, you will unveil the identity of these candidates, in which case you can turn those settings back ON in the collaboration portal. It is at this stage when you’re far along in the search where your role as a search consultant comes in to remain as the unbiased figure in the process and remind clients (by “playing therapist”) that these candidates moved forward because they were qualified. Remain a champion of diversity and inclusion if that is important to your company—but also remember that you are the original gatekeeper of diversity and inclusion when it comes to talent.

When You and Your Client Conduct Interviews

Once you whittle down your list of candidates to a selected few, you want to think about how you can assess these candidates evenly and fairly in their final interviews. One way to do this is to create a standard list of questions to ask every candidate. The intention should be to evaluate how well the candidate’s skills and abilities align with those required for the role. In creating a standard list of questions, you're adding structure to the interview process and eliminating any chance that you or the client will ask questions irrelevant to the role.

Also during this interview stage, you want to encourage your client to assemble a diverse interview panel. A diverse interview panel is a great way to combat unconscious bias seeing as each member can bring a different perspective to the table. Additionally, this expresses to the candidate that the company values diversity and is more likely to place the company in good standing with the candidate.

When Clients Make Their Final Decision

When clients prepare to make their final decision, bias tends to find a way of creeping in and taking hold of their thought process.

It is especially paramount during these final moments of the search project to ensure this doesn't happen. It's your responsibility as the search firm to guide your client's decision making process so that they make their selection based on hard evidence rather than unconscious thought.

Start by recognizing the different biases that a client can face such as:

  • Leniency bias
  • Strictness bias
  • Similar-to-me bias
  • Contrast effect bias
  • Halo bias

Afterward, explain to your clients the bias in their decisions and have them reference their notes on each candidate to substantiate their decisions. Read more on the Best Practices for Executive Recruiting Decision Making and how to guide your client's evaluation process.

If you research enough, you'll find that every credible report expresses the importance of diversity in the workplace. It drives innovation, boosts company performance, increases morale, augments the company's value, you name it. Yet, we still face an uphill battle to increase the number of diverse executives in some of the world's biggest companies.

As an executive search firm, great and diverse talent starts with you. Mitigating bias from your executive search process is only the first step of many towards upholding the industry's standard for a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Thaddeus Andres

Thaddeus Andres

With nearly 13 years of experience within executive search and recruitment, Thaddeus has held several marketing roles at various industry associations, networks and companies where he was responsible for implementing, leading and driving key marketing strategies and initiatives.

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