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How to Practice Organizational Integrity, Part 3: Notice Implicit Bias, Especially in Hiring

Many HIV-focused organizations are struggling with diversity in leadership, where the leadership is primarily white, or male, or straight, or otherwise homogeneous. It’s time to change the culture of our organizations, and embrace a culture that fully supports those most affected by the epidemic to thrive and do brilliant work. In this three-part Organizational Integrity blog series, Kaytee Ray-Riek explore steps organizations can take to become more inclusive, and ultimately more effective.

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1: Be Explicit About Culture
and Part 2: Provide Support When People are Hurt.

You can be super focused on building a great culture, but very little of this matters if you’re not doing a good job hiring a great, diverse team to begin with. Too often, our own brain’s efforts to make our lives easier -- by finding patterns and drawing conclusions -- end up making our jobs a lot harder. This phenomenon is called implicit bias, and it’s critical in hiring processes to shed light on where it is showing up, because it’s something that happens to all of us.

Here are some things to look out for (with appreciation to Jeanne Rewa for sharing this framework):

Type of Implicit Bias:

How it plays out: Example:
Selective perception We only see things that reinforce our beliefs. We focus on the good traits and ignore the bad.
We generally have a good feeling about a candidate, so we don’t notice that they were late to the interview.
Stereotyping We make assumptions about someone based on an identity they hold that is oversimplified.
There’s a stereotype in society that gay men are very dramatic, so we assume that a gay male applicant will bring lots of drama into the workplace.
Halo effect The applicant has one thing that’s true about them that we love, so we assume they’d be great for the job.
We see an applicant did sexual health education in high school, so we assume they’d be great for the job we’re interviewing them for (even if they job has nothing to do with sexual health education).
Projection The applicant is like us, so we assume that like us, they’ll be a great fit for the organization.

The applicant went to the same school as we did, so we assume they’re just like us and will work out great, even if they are really nothing like us.
Self-fulfilling prophecy We expect things to go a particular way, so our behavior makes it happen.
We assume that the candidate won’t be excited about the role, so we don’t do a good job answering their questions enthusiastically, and they end up withdrawing their application.

You can download this chart and share it with your team here.

The other piece of implicit bias that shows up in hiring is ‘gut reaction.’ This is when we have a (usually) negative reaction to something someone does, and make assumptions about what that means.

For instance, their cover letter has typos, so we assume they aren’t interested in the job, or they’re not detail oriented. But those typos could be the result of lots of things that have nothing to do with the person’s fitness for the job, from the person not being a native english speaker, to the person being dyslexic, to the person being a parent who only had an hour while their kid napped to get in the application, and they didn’t have time to proofread. And since almost no jobs require 100% perfection in spelling, your gut reaction to pass on an applicant with typos in their cover letter may be keeping you from getting the best person in the job.

When you notice you’re having a gut reaction, it’s useful to name it, and then look for what assumption you’re making. Then, once you know what your concern really is, you can look for evidence or ask questions in an interview setting that help you get to the real concern.

And really, that’s the topline lesson from the whole series:
  1. Define what you want to be;
  2. Notice what you’re doing and the impact it has, especially on people who are different from you;
  3. Get more information;
  4. Discuss with people affected; and
  5. Make changes to bring yourself and your organization into alignment with what you want to be doing.
When more organizations prioritize doing this regularly, we’ll see rapid changes in the culture of organizations, to be more inclusive and equitable throughout. ​
AIDS United provides free technical assistance to organizations through our Sector Transformation program and CDC-funded Getting to Zero Capacity Building Program. Learn more here.

Kaytee Ray-Riek is an organizational culture expert who provides training and technical assistance to organizations to build an organizational culture rooted in equity. Reach out to her here.

Posted By: Guest Blogger: Kaytee Ray-Riek, Organizational Culture Expert - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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