Harmonizing Voices: Navigating Bias in Interviews for a Diverse Workforce

Tania A. Ibarra, CPA
July 19, 2019

I love watching "The Voice." It's an uplifting experience, especially the auditions, which are my favorite part. The fact that coaches can't see the contestants and must rely solely on their voices and the audience's reaction is fascinating. It often leads to surprise when the coaches finally see who's behind these incredible voices, eliciting comments about the unexpected power or maturity in the voice for someone's age or appearance.

As a Latina with an accent, but recognized for my "excellent command of English," I've faced my own set of surprises in professional settings. It wasn't until six years into my career, during my first interview in my native language, that I realized how much more confident I felt when language wasn't a barrier. This experience also made me more aware of the differences in interviewing styles between men and women.

Throughout my career as an advocate for equity, inclusion, and diversity, I've had the opportunity to discuss with employers in the Madison area about increasing workforce diversity. I've learned that while HR may provide initial candidate screening and guidance, it ultimately falls on hiring managers to conduct interviews—a process often riddled with biases.

Interview biases can manifest in several ways:

  1. Bias for quick thinkers: Not everyone processes information the same way; some need time to think. Offering questions in advance or allowing time during the interview can help level the playing field.
  2. Socioeconomic biases: Judging candidates by their attire can overlook talented individuals who may not have the means to dress as expected. Early in my career, I learned the importance of looking past appearances when a friend needed to borrow a suit for an interview.
  3. Bias against accents: Phone interviews can disadvantage non-native speakers. Skipping to in-person interviews can avoid unnecessary hurdles.

At Step Up: Equity Matters, we've been exploring ways to minimize interview biases. Here are some strategies:

  1. Avoid tokenism: Inviting candidates of color solely to meet diversity quotas is transparent and counterproductive. Genuine assessment is key.
  2. Use diverse interview panels: This can help mitigate individual biases and provide a more balanced assessment.
  3. Clarify the purpose of interview questions: Ensure candidates understand what you're looking for with each question to reduce ambiguity and bias.
  4. Emphasize clarity over 'fit': Focus on job specifications and requirements rather than subjective notions of 'fit.'
  5. Standardize interview questions: This ensures a fair and consistent process for all candidates.
  6. Self-awareness: Check your emotions and biases at the door to ensure a fair assessment.
  7. Structured candidate evaluation: Use an agenda or guide to keep discussions focused and fair.

Addressing interview bias is challenging but crucial for creating equitable opportunities. By taking proactive steps and committing to fairness, we can make significant progress toward more inclusive hiring practices.