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Is Organizational Bias Sabotaging Your Diversity Hiring Efforts?

Erin Iafelice

The issue of unconscious bias has received significant attention in the last few months, especially regarding its influence on hiring decision-making. However, there is another type of bias that could be sabotaging your diversity initiatives: organizational bias. Organizational bias is bias baked into the way things get done in your enterprise, and it can negatively impact diversity initiatives in multiple ways. Organizational bias can prevent companies from hiring the most qualified candidates by sidelining data-driven hiring, and even when companies build a workforce with cognitive diversity, they miss out on its value because diverse perspectives aren’t encouraged. Let’s take a closer look at a bias that’s always been there but can be harder to see.

What is organizational bias?

Unfortunately, organizational bias is thriving in some companies, lurking in their culture, the structure of their departments, and their strategic priorities. It comes into play when an organization makes decisions and carries out its work is influenced more by culture, structure, and strategy than by data. Groupthink and “that’s the way it’s always been done here” are two manifestations of organizational bias.

Here’s an example: A senior leader directs his team to use the numbers in a longstanding report even when new data comes to light, mainly because he is more comfortable with the regular information. The biased decision about which numbers become the starting point for planning and decision-making could have a significant impact down the road in a missed opportunity, or worse, a missed market signal that adjustment is needed to keep the company competitive.

Here’s another example: A virtual team has a decision to make on a Zoom call. During the discussion, one team member Googles the points up for debate and reports back that there is data to confirm the prevailing direction. The team makes a fast decision feeling like they’ve done their due diligence. Confirmation bias, or seeking out information to confirm existing beliefs, is at work across the group, and it is also built into the way this team works. In addition, the groupthink happening here is notorious for influencing poor decisions.

What does organizational bias look like in hiring?

In the hiring process, organizational bias can influence outcomes in several ways:

  • A hiring team leader pushing for a candidate based on her resume or prior work experience, when neither is a proven indicator of how well she will do in the open role.
  • Dismissing or avoiding dissenting opinions in collaborative hiring discussions and decisions, either due to cultural pressure or strategic goals prioritize speed over quality in hiring.
  • The hiring process and data used in hiring varies by hiring manager. Leading businesses put a well-considered hiring decision framework in place to reduce the influence of organizational bias.

How is organizational bias different from individual bias?

Much of the focus in identifying bias has been on cognitive bias in individuals. Organizational bias can happen when some of these individual biases become an accepted part of work processes and decision-making. For more information on individual and unconscious bias in hiring, download this white paper, The Future Is Fair: How AI Is Eliminating Bias.

Why is it so important to recognize and reduce organizational bias?

The nature of organizational bias makes it difficult to recognize, but it must become a priority for modern organizations. Organizational bias is more widespread than individual bias, meaning it can significantly influence the bottom line, hiring outcomes, and employee satisfaction. This type of bias can lessen the beneficial impact of data-driven decision-making in an organization because the data used for decisions may not accurately reflect the entire picture.

Organizational bias can also diminish progress in diversity hiring by undermining inclusivity in the culture. The company may hire qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, but if there is little room to express new ideas or groupthink is the norm, the inclusivity so crucial to retaining a diverse workforce won’t be there.

How to reduce organizational bias in hiring

Try these strategies to reduce organizational bias in your company:

  • Remove limits on data-sharing. All decision-makers should have access to the data available so they can evaluate it and offer informed opinions.
  • Choose technology proven for the purpose. Corporate buying decisions are sometimes based on what’s shiny and new, especially true with artificial intelligence (AI). Take AI-powered virtual hiring platforms as an example: It’s essential to choose the platform not because it has the latest AI but because its AI is proven to improve hiring performance. If recruiters recommend candidates using the data from the platform’s pre-hire assessments, they must be certain the assessments are validated as predicting candidates’ future job performance.  
  • Monitor bias. With a science-based virtual hiring platform, recruiting teams can measure and monitor bias in their hiring process and adjust to reduce adverse impacts on protected groups. 

As data-driven insights become more accessible in hiring and other corporate functions, organizational bias can be replaced with more well-informed decision-making. A culture that values, respects, and openly integrates the diverse perspectives of employees can overcome groupthink. To learn more about using an analytics framework to improve hiring decisions, review Aptitude Research’s latest reportRedefining Success: Talent Analytics for the Future.