A Primer on Bias in Interviewing
Jobseekers with Disabilities
by Mark Williams
Employers’ hiring decisions may be affected by cultural or individual biases against individuals with disabilities. These biases may be implicit, in that they are not apparent to either the jobseeker or the interviewer. Implicit bias can be addressed through training, experience, and policies and practices that promote inclusion, objectivity and measurement.
Bias in the Workplace
In general, bias can be defined as prejudice in favor of or against a person or group, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Negative biases towards hiring individuals with disabilities come from employers’ concerns about litigation, insurance coverage, accommodations and workplace supports, how safety and productivity standards will be met; and concerns about mid-level department and team managers’ negative reactions, discomfort and lack of receptivity.
In some studies, less than one-third of hiring managers reported experience in hiring individuals with disabilities. Bias has also been shown to exist based on disability type. Employers have been more likely to express positive attitudes toward individuals with physical or sensory disabilities than those with intellectual or psychiatric ones.
The UK-based organization, SCOPE, launched the “End the Awkward” campaign addresses the discomfort that people may feel when interviewing people with disabilities.
Implicit bias is affected by many factors that can change over time, including affiliations and group memberships, consciously held attitudes, and bias in the surrounding culture.
Bias, whether implicit or overt, impacts a variety of workplace factors:
- Who gets hired.
- How employees are evaluated, promoted, and compensated.
- Productivity, morale and attrition.
- Claims of discrimination.
- Employees’ access to workplace resources and opportunities.
Organizations that allow biases to infiltrate personnel decisions fail at properly hiring, training, engaging and motivating employees, leaving employers at a competitive disadvantage in the search for talent. As labor estimates show U.S. employers face a shortage of skilled workers, bias at the individual or organizational level can leave employers vulnerable to shifting demographics.
Common behaviors and judgments reflecting bias among interviewers include:
- Stereotyping based on individual characteristics, insufficient information, or undue emphasis on nonverbal behavior unrelated to the job.
- Inconsistent questioning.
- Judgments based on first impressions.
- Judging a candidate’s qualifications in comparison to stronger or weaker performances of other candidates.
- Tendencies to rate all candidates, poorly, moderately or highly.
- The need to fill a position immediately without due consideration to qualifications.
- Tendencies to “over-sell” a position to a highly qualified candidate.
- An over-reliance on the personal references of friends.
- Preferences based on the order in which candidates were interviewed.
- Inclinations towards candidates who are attractive.
- Favoring candidates with unrelated interests, background, or experiences that are similar to the interviewer’s.
- Arbitrary expectations.
- Intuition based on factors not related to the hiring decision such as emotion, or memory.
Management Level Considerations.
The Food and Drug Administration is committed to maintaining a safe and accessible work environment, especially for colleagues with disabilities who may need reasonable accommodations.
An organization’s culture is the most significant factor facilitating employment of individuals with disabilities. This culture is the sum of opinions, assumptions, values, stereotypes, rituals, and stories that are translated into policies and procedures influencing the way qualified workers are hired. Companies successful in integrating disability into the workforce have a philosophy that diverse talent help to create a competitive advantage, and that by contributing to diversity, employees with disabilities also contribute to the competitive advantage that organizations seek. To help confront and reduce bias, organizations: engage senior management to encourage employment of qualified individuals with disabilities, actively use diversity training, and collaborate with community agencies serving individuals with disabilities.
A management system that clearly defines and evaluates the way it manages human and physical assets helps to reduce bias by providing a variety of metrics including: hiring and promotion rates, career path movement, compensation among different employee groups, and statistical analyses of performance appraisals to identify patterns of potentially biased performance evaluations.
Additional strategies for reducing bias among interviewers include:
- Evaluating interviewers for bias, and identifying and training interviewers who lean towards bias free behavior.
Project Implicit, based at Harvard University, offers a free, online assessment for individuals, called The Implicit Association Test, which reports on bias in a variety of areas including disability.
Providing additional training for a diverse group of the organization’s best interviewers.
- Using multiple interviewers with diverse backgrounds and different perspectives to help ensure that more valid and legally defensible selection decisions are made—and that the impact of any biases held by individuals or groups is mitigated..
- Setting up a blind applicant review system also can help prevent biased selection decisions; employment lawyers recommend masking the names and addresses of applicants before circulating resumes.
Positive Bias and Past Experience.
More favorable ratings of applicants with disabilities have been seen among interviewers with high levels of openness to experience, and a strong commitment to diversity. Previous experience working with individuals with disabilities may increase interviewers’ comfort around people with disabilities while reducing external, social pressures to control prejudice. Employers have also shown positive bias towards employees with disabilities, including beliefs that their commitment and loyalty to the company is high, and hiring individuals with disabilities has an altruistic value.
Structured Interviews Based on Job Descriptions.
A structured interview can help to ensures that all candidates are asked the same questions regardless of demographic characteristics or appearance.
Questions should be based on a job’s essential functions. Accurate job descriptions may include: physical task demands, knowledge, abilities, social skills, and travel requirements, and may be drawn from the work experience of past or present employees in the position. Ideally, a team of individuals, including a manager and staff who are good at the job, should complete the job analysis and write the job description.
Developing benchmark answers for questions in a structured interview also helps to objectively evaluate candidates’ answers.
Creating written communications to strengthen relations with specific customers.
What types of written communication did you create in your last position?
With specific, job relevant benchmark answers, the interviewer will more likely attend to the job relevant qualities of the candidate, thus reducing bias towards a perceived disability.
Interviewers using a structured format should also strive to create comfort and predictability in the interview. In a relaxed environment, candidates will feel safe, trusted and engaged. In a relaxed environment, candidates are more likely to give unscripted answers and insights into the type of employee and person they are. Interviewers should take the time to understand candidates, their goals, and their points of view about their own performance as well as the specifics of the job.
This article has provided distinctions and techniques in support of the premise that we become less biased, not by discriminating less but instead, by being more discriminating about our own perceptions of who individuals may be and what differentiates one individual from another.
While bias is intrinsic to human nature, organizations and interviewers should seek to understand bias, how it relates to disability, and how it can be addressed. Not only to reduce the risk of litigation or noncompliance with regulations, a level playing field for jobseekers with disabilities contributes to the diversity that companies today recognize as a strategic imperative.
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