Hiring Managers and Gender Bias

When looking at the problem of gender inequality in the workplace, it is hard to deny the importance of hiring managers in the bigger picture. As the entry point for new employees to a company, they can improve team balance, fix misconceptions, and set up new employees for success. The values of an organization, or how a company behaves, begins with leadership. If conscious of and proactive about the gender inequity issues at play Hiring Managers can make some of the largest positive impacts at a company. However, if blind or ignorant to these pitfalls, they run the risk of costing their company, the best talent, higher functioning teams, and millions of dollars.

My Story

I’m going to tell you about one of the most frustrating stories of my career. I was applying to a Sales role that was described as needing a candidate who was extroverted, outgoing, and aggressive. I prepared for the role and during the interview process, accentuated those qualities and highlighted the times in my work history that I could be aggressive.

The Hiring Manager loved that I studied the role as advertised and eventually gave me the job. The problem was that once I joined my team, I found the hiring manager presented me as overly-ambitious and in-your-face. A perception that followed me during my entire time at that job. As a woman this can be a damning misconception. I was even counselled by my manager at one point for being too aggressive, the very thing I was hired for and something a man would never be talked to about.

What could have fixed this unfortunate situation? The Hiring Manager being a bit more careful with communication. Allow someone to demonstrate their worth, their personality, their behavior through their own actions rather than creating a preconceived perception of someone by speaking about them. Also, be conscious of how a person receives and wants to receive recognition. Not everyone enjoys the spotlight, or being talked about. Ask your employee – regardless of gender – how they want to be recognized on the team, and what they are comfortable with. If they don’t know – you need to continuously ask for feedback. Both anonymous and live in order to make sure you are acting in a way they want you to act.

What Can We Do?

Corporate America is spending millions on fixing these issues with PowerPoint decks and dry seminars. In my experience these are absurdly ineffective. What can Hiring Managers do? I have one major suggestion, remove gender biases from the interview process.

Interviews have proved to be bad indicators of a candidate’s future performance, and good ways to introduce gender biases (conscious or not) into your hiring process. From the HBR article linked:

Unstructured interviews consistently receive the highest ratings for perceived effectiveness from hiring managers, dozens of studies have found them to be among the worst predictors of actual on-the-job performance.

According to the research we should get rid of unstructured interviews. Yeah, I don’t see that happening, do you? So how do you combat something naturally human that isn’t going away anytime soon? Put together procedures to fix the problem.

Diversify Your Hiring Team

People are most likely to hire others who are like them. One of the easiest ways to remove gender bias is to make sure new hires interview with an even split of men and women and those interviewers have equal say in the candidate’s hiring.

Blind Feedback

After doing interviews, remove names and identifying characteristics from interviewer reports. Then have the team decide on candidates they like and didn’t like. I’ll admit this one would be hard to implement, but it has worked for other companies in the past.

We use scorecards for interviews – we create a list of criteria prior to meeting a candidate. Each individual that speaks with a prospective employee ranks them 1 – 4 in the area they are vetting and the scores are added up. This allows us to determine a candidate’s quality based on skills, experience and helps ensure that we are hiring based on performance criteria and not gender-bias.

Structure Interviews

Unstructured interviews are at a greater risk to the many biases interviewers deal with (think anchoring and confirmation biases). Adding structure to interviews with a repeatable reporting process will go a long way to hold those biases at bay.

Wrapping Up

Growing professionally in predominantly male organizations has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. There were moments during hiring that could have shaken my confidence or changed my behavior to adapt to an unfriendly environment. The process is tricky, and it doesn’t just stop when you receive an offer. Keep at it ladies.

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