Is It OK To Hire A White Straight Man?

Frank Zappa – “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open”

If you’re responsible for making any form of hiring decision, then you should be aware that you have unconscious biases toward anyone and everyone you encounter.

Building a diverse workforce and tackling your unconscious bias is a mammoth subject. My aim, in this rather short blog post, is to highlight some of the key points in this issue, point you in the direction of some great material and explain why the answer to the above question is yes.

So, why is building a diverse workforce and tackling your unconscious bias important anyway? Well, there are many advantages to doing so, the top 2 being:

  1. You open up the talent pool while keeping the same high standard (if not better) of hires.
  2. A diverse team increases productivity. With different mind sets you will have multiple solutions to your company’s problems.

Now we need to understand unconscious bias. The ECU (Equality Challenge Unit) states that “unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences”.

The problem with unconscious bias is, well, that it’s unconscious. It’s very difficult to address as we do it without thinking. But there are ways in which we can eradicate, or minimise, our unconscious bias when looking to hire.

An infamous example of eradicating unconscious bias comes from the St. Louis Orchestra, they realised that their orchestra was predominantly men so a change was made to the audition process. When applicants auditioned, they did so behind screens (the interviewer could not see them thus basing the results on musicianship alone) and female numbers grew. So much so that women eventually outnumbered men.

Here are some other ways in which you can avoid unconscious bias:

  • Remove names on CV’s. Or you could take this another step further, “professional services firm Deloitte has changed its selection process so recruiters do not know where candidates went to school or university”[1].
  • For technical hires ensure that you test. You can even use services such as Gradberry (gradberry.com) that require candidates to pass a technical challenge before they can apply. Gradberry was initially created to help those with little/no commercial experience or lack of higher education be interviewed based on their technical ability.
  • Joelle Emerson (CEO of Paradigm) suggests setting up “nudges“, perhaps a calendar invite, before hosting an interview to remind you that “we make a decision about hiring a person within 10 seconds of meeting them . We use the rest of the interview to justify that decision. [And that] we have a very strong bias towards people that physically look like ourselves. We also think they are smarter and better looking”[2].

Lastly, be wary of disregarding applicants for not being a ‘cultural fit’. Unless you have a clearly defined set of values and a solid understanding of your company’s culture, then rejecting applicants for not being a cultural fit can be translated as “they’re not like us”.

So, was your white straight male colleague hired because he is white, straight and male? Or regardless of those things? If the latter, then yes, it was OK.

References & Suggested Materials

[1] www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34384668

[2] www.zdnet.com/article/workplace-diversity-is-held-back-by-unconscious-bias

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