Overcoming Unconscious Bias

A newly released report by ExecSearches provides insight into how skilled executive recruiters avoid letting personal affinities affect their searches and instead hone in on core competencies. Developing a checklist of qualities, attributes and experience being sought in a candidate as well as strong training can go a long way in overcoming unconscious biases.

December 2, 2021 – What measures can you take to make certain that hiring operates on an equitable basis? Everyone has personal likes and dislikes that may affect hiring outcomes. This is normal, natural and a part of being human. Skilled recruiters have developed techniques to minimize the impact of affinity and to redirect focus on core competency, according to a new report from ExecSearches. “A rubric can be an effective tool to help regularize the search process,” said report author Karen Alphonse. “A rubric is a checklist of qualities, attributes and experience that your ideal candidate ought to bring to the task. Some rubrics are complex and include analysis of competing attributes. Others are relatively straightforward. For these purposes, a simple rubric will work as well as something more sophisticated.”

Develop Checklist that is Accurate and Complete

Start with the position description, says Ms. Alphonso. “Cull skills and identify the ten or so most important,” she said. “Circulate that list as many times as you need to get a rough consensus. Then, rank order skills with the most important at the top and the least at the bottom.” Ms. Alphonso notes that a good list for an executive director or development professional might look like the following:

  1. Updating the vision and mission
  2. Development/resource generation
  3. Budgets and financial management
  4. Networking/outreach
  5. Capacity building
  6. Strategic planning
  7. Marketing
  8. Succession planning
  9. Community presence
  10. Public presence and presentation skills

“Getting to the point where you have a complete list may take some work,” said Ms. Alphonso. “There are often many other worthy qualities, and the pre-negotiation will help to iron out, before you meet real candidates, what the operating priorities really look like.

Apply the List to Everyone

This is probably the most difficult piece of the process, according to Ms. Alphonso. “As you start to meet professionals, you might identify a few who are absolutely charismatic but lack some of your top five qualities,” she said. “You will have to consider whether you are going to move such candidates forward. Other candidates will be known to members of your selection committee and might have an advantage from those personal relationships.”

2021 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Recruiting Report:
Building a Balanced and Diverse Workforce

Hunt Scanlon Media’s latest market intelligence recruiting report – this time focused on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – will be available later this fall! The nation’s top executive recruiters are resetting expectations and looking for new ways forward to build balanced and diverse workforce teams for their clients.

According to executive recruiters, DE&I should not just be a priority, but an integrated part of every company’s leadership goals. Some companies have even tied DE&I metrics to executive compensation. But it’s more than that.

Part of building strong, diverse hiring teams means asking yourself: “Who is my company culture going to attract – and how will it engage people who are here?” This question can be very difficult to answer if you assume everyone feels welcome already just because you do. Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion within organizations is more than just the right ethical decision. “It is one of the best business decisions a company can make,” said Keri Gavin, a partner with Hanold Associates and leader of the search firm’s Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practice. Hanold Associates is a proud sponsor of this year’s report. This report will help organizations prioritize DE&I as a business imperative that drives greater competitiveness, innovation and business results. Get it now! 

“However, the rubric will help you tease out those with core competence and distance those whose charisma, personal relationships, and knowledge of how to interview well might otherwise give them advantages in the process,” Ms. Alphonso said. “It will also minimize personality jockeying. It is hard to argue that someone who scores 3/10 on the rubric should get the opportunity to advance in the process.”

Give Yourself Permission to Update the List as the Process Develops

Sometimes a search becomes its own education. That is, as the process moves ahead, an organization becomes aware that additional/different qualities are really at the core of their requirements, noted Ms. Alphonso. “When this happens, simply upgrade the rubric and examine each candidate against the updated requirements,” she said. “This will ensure that everyone interviewed gets assessed by the same or similar criteria. In the end, it makes it more likely than not that you will emerge with a pool that is technically adept and has many of the leadership qualities you seek.”

Training & Balance     

Once new hires arrive, how can we ensure that all receive similar opportunities to advance?The biggest gift you can give your DEI hiring program is a strong training series within your organization,” Ms. Alphonso said. “You see, training circumvents the social and personal factors that make it hard for those who are perceived as “different” to advance. Training equips everyone to do well, and it will give those who are hungry to move forward many of the tips they will need to make smart, professional choices based upon their ability to perform their roles well.”

Related: Improving Diversity Starts with a Culture Check

Strong training assumes that, given appropriate supports, everyone can acquire and build the skills necessary for success. Ms. Alphonso said that by “having a strong training program, you provide everyone a roughly equal chance to absorb the materials and to apply them. This is quicker, easier, and far more effective than waiting for the country club clique to consider a new member or expecting those with generations-long notions related to race, religion and politics to alter their opinions,” she said. “Knowledge transcends many social, political and even economic barriers. Also, most people respect competence. So, when you build the tools for competence into your orientation and ongoing professional development, you are literally creating opportunities.”

Karen Alphonse is a search solution leader and executive coach with ExecSearches. She joined the firm to spearhead its search consulting practice. Most recently, she served as a strategic advisor, confidant and career coach to thought-leaders in financial services, legal, education and mission-driven organizations. Ms. Alphonse identifies talent through social media, job postings, referrals and targeted research. Her interactions with hundreds of candidates and executives has shaped her creative interview techniques and ability to conduct behavioral assessments, take expert references and understand candidates’ strengths.

Really good training programs offer different kinds of learners opportunities to absorb new information, according to Ms. Alphonso. “Visual learners will do best if charts, graphs, and illustrations accompany the trainings,” she said. “Similarly, those who learn well by listening will respond well to engaging lectures and messaging that enters via the ears. Others will respond well to hands-on sessions, simulated learning, and shadowing those who know the process well. A thoughtful program will incorporate these kinds of learning tools and more.”

Many employees enjoy attending conferences and out-of-the-office events. Ms. Alphonso notes that today’s remote learning tools have opened up many more virtual learning options, and smart companies are taking advantage of these methods to keep their trainings current and accessible. “Do not assume that your managers have all of the tools that they need to become effective executives,” she said. “Train them on specific topics, depending on our industry and core business, that will make a measurable difference to outcomes. You do need to train people on how to manage board, how to raise funds, how to build networks if they have not done these things before. You may even need to train people on how to give effective speeches and public presentations.”

The list of potential training programs is endless. “You know your organization best,” Ms. Alphonso said. “You probably know which skills and attributes will distinguish an “okay” leader from one who truly excels. Provide the training that will make good potential leaders the best leaders your organization has ever had. Particularly if you have a tight budget and you are committed to creating pathways for a range of qualified professionals to move up your organization’s ranks, focus on a rigorous training program. It will be an investment well worth the time and funds required to create something that prepares your incoming employees for success.”

Related: Major Paradigm Shifts Coming Out of the Coronavirus Crisis

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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