Better Reference Checking Is A Step To Ending Bad Behavior

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Nov 17, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

From Uber’s media firestorm earlier this year which highlighted its lack of female employees and failure to address complaints of sexism to the recent memo from a Google engineer saying that women were more focused on “feelings and aesthetics than ideas,” the tech industry has been running into some serious HR challenges.

While these diversity and inclusion issues did not stem from just one place, we can be certain that at least in part, these human resources troubles grow from a lack of diversity. Silicon Valley is not alone in this. For years, various industries and companies have been attempting to mitigate these problems, but hidden or unconscious bias gets in the way. Unconscious bias influences your decisions in ways you can’t notice or control, and everyone, by essence of being human, has biases.

Time and again, studies have found that hiring managers can be swayed by personal preferences leading to a less-than-impartial analysis of an applicant’s skills and qualifications. Unconscious bias is the reason that although companies are serious about committing to diversity, they continue to hire the same type of candidate.

According to a study done in 2012 that tested subtle biases in faculty hiring, when two identical resumes show up on a desk – with the only difference being gender – the male candidates were rated as more competent and hireable.

Diversity Is Good For Business

Hiring based on stereotypes and bias will not only bring legal trouble – it will also hurt a company’s bottom line. Organizations may be missing out on hiring the best talent if they are only looking for “like me” candidates or candidates from well-known universities or brand name companies. Having a team with a diverse range of thought leads to more ideas generated and more successful organizations.

A study done by McKinsey found that companies that rank in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to financially outperform those that rank in the bottom quartile.

Workforce diversity programs abound, but it takes more than good intentions to unearth great talent, especially when bias may be infiltrating your hiring process in ways that you don’t even know about. The reality is that if organizations are serious about creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, they will need to go above and beyond the standard hiring practices that rely on resumes and interviews.

Employers are learning the hard way that a tendency toward bad behavior does not show up in a resume, and job candidates rehearse and are on their best behavior in an interview setting.

Better Reference Checking

Employers need to delve into a candidate’s past performance to learn about how they respect and treat others, as well as their ability to work with others – key tenets for any successful organization. One thing employers can do to find out this kind of information is to conduct more rigorous reference checking. Online reference checking can help you reach out to easily get feedback from three to five references, and because they can provide the feedback to specific questions confidentially, you get more candid feedback.

While a resume will tell you what projects a candidate has worked on – a reference check will tell you if people actually enjoyed working with them on that project. A New York Timesarticle on the recent Google memo scandal correctly pointed out that interpersonal skills like collaboration, communication, empathy and emotional intelligence are essential to being a successful coder.

One of the most important things a reference check can do is help you assess a candidate’s “soft skills” – competencies such as “being a team player” or “adapting to change.” With this kind of knowledge in their hiring arsenal, companies can make better informed decisions about the kind of person they are hiring.

In order for tech giants to employ a more diverse workforce, their hiring managers need to pay attention to the implicit assumptions that can inadvertently prompt them to choose candidates who may not be best for the position.

If organizations are serious about diversity and creating a more inclusive workforce, they need to adopt more progressive hiring and referencing practices that objectively measure a person’s skills and potential. It’s time for Silicon Valley to get with the times.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.