The importance of naming and addressing institutional racism has many people focusing on what one can do, as individuals and as employers, to improve diversity, inclusion and understanding at one’s organization. Below are several resources and recommendations compiled from experts at the Harvard Business School, along with actions you can take now to make a lasting difference.

What is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious or implicit bias is the mental processes that cause us to act in ways that reinforce stereotypes even when in our conscious mind we would deem that behavior counter to our value system. Closely related to unconscious bias is affinity bias in which people tend to gravitate towards others who look, act, and think as they do.

In recruiting specifically, unconscious bias and affinity bias often express themselves as a preference for one candidate or another because of “culture fit.” Resumes may be selected because of a shared alma mater, or because of an unconscious bias to one name over another. Or, a candidate may be selected over others because “I could see myself hanging out with them after work.”

As HBS Professor Youngme Moon noted in a HBS After Hours Podcast, “There are so many industries that have a history of relying on the soft stuff, and the soft stuff has worked in the favor of a particular kind of individual. The truth is the soft stuff is often a euphemism in many cases for bias. For people being able to use their discretion to hire people who are just like them, that they are comfortable with, that look like them, that act like them, that talk like them.”

Why Addressing Unconscious Bias Benefits Your Organization

Making choices that are unconsciously rooted in bias is detrimental to individuals and the organization as a whole by creating a workplace lacking in diversity. Diversity across all facets, including, but not limited to, race, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual orientation, brings together individuals who each contribute unique experiences and perspectives. This diversity within organizations fosters better problem-solving, innovation, and thoughtful strategic planning.

Furthermore, studies have shown that talented candidates seek out diverse work environments. Overcoming unconscious bias in your hiring has a ripple effect of building an exceptional team that attracts exceptional candidates.

Unconscious bias and a resulting lack of diversity can also impact a company’s bottom line. A study of venture capital firms found that “the more similar the investment partners, the lower their investments’ performance.” A study by The National Bureau of Economic Research found that the financial gains of diversity are not limited to venture capital but also expand to goods and service-based businesses.

Addressing Unconscious Bias in Remote Recruiting

There are excellent resources to help train your managers and employees to confront unconscious bias, and we encourage companies to invest time and resources into this important work. In addition, we are sharing recommendations to specifically address a remote recruiting environment and how unconscious bias may happen virtually.

Review Job Descriptions

Whether in print or online, job descriptions have always been a remote element of the hiring process. They serve as a marketing tool to attract candidates and the language used can unconsciously tell people or groups that they are not the right fit. When crafting your job description use inclusion language and try the “flip test” to gauge whether your personal experience or unconscious bias has impacted word choice. Candidates will be relying heavily on your company’s written materials, make them count.

Be Aware of Bias on Video

When having an in-person informational conversation or interview, the backdrop is generally at your office or on campus. With virtual recruiting, those conversations will happen more and more frequently using video calls where the background may be the candidate’s home. Over the past several months you may have noticed how often you focus on where your colleagues are and what noises you may hear in the background. The same will be true in hiring.

Candidates may not own computers that are compatible with Zoom backgrounds, could be sharing living space with limited private quiet areas, or managing multiple responsibilities including child or elder care. None of these factors impact how well a candidate could do the job. Being aware of how background visuals and noise impact your perspective of a candidates' professionalism or fit is critical and can help to address unconscious bias head on by naming it. Another option – offer candidates the choice for a phone or online call with the video off in early interactions if that is most comfortable.