On Tuesday, I recorded an 18-minute talk for the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) Relational Practices Telesummit, In the talk, I apply my Third Ear Conflict Resolution process to implicit bias. That seems relevant here.
I agree that “culture fit” is important when building a team and that it can, unfortunately, open employers up to EEOC complaints, much like “zero tolerance” policies for sexual harassment or discrimination. The problem is not necessarily the policy, but the application. Employers often implement the policies without much training, which leaves managers to interpret them for themselves, and they will often get them wrong—even with the right intentions—because of their own implicit biases.
As I discuss in my ABA talk, implicit biases are hidden from us. They occur in our subconsciousness, without our direct consent. So, we must train ourselves to look for them. When hiring for culture fit, considerations include:
- What is the employer’s culture? Who determined this? If it was merely declared by executives, managers, marketers, or attorneys without the input of workers at all levels, there’s a good chance you won’t truly be hiring for a culture fit. Thus, you are at a greater risk of discriminating.
- What are the tasks we need help with, and what is required to complete them? It’s human nature to gravitate toward candidates who seem like us. We think they will be easier to work with because they went to the same school, have the same hobbies, dress like us, etc. But people are a lot more complex than that. We have to resist the urge to assume someone is a good culture fit, based on a few characteristics, and we can do that by focusing on skills. It might help to have an outside agency conduct initial screenings and interviews in ways that hide names, photographs, and other information that might distract from skills.
- What thoughts do I need to ignore? Experts believe humans have approximately 70,000 thoughts per day. It would be impossible for us to remember all of them, which suggests we are ignoring some of them, possibly for good reason. At other times, we are aware of them and don’t immediately recognize they are among the ones we might have best ignored. If you find yourself thinking you know a person’s story based on their name, hair color, height, attractiveness, school, race, gender, gender identity (real or perceived), real or perceived disability, age, or anything other than their skills, notice your increased likelihood of discriminating. Focus on the skills and ask questions that reveal the technical and soft ones you seek. For example:
We often have projects that ____________________. have you led projects like that? Tell me about one. What was your biggest accomplishment related to that project? What challenged you most?
You might be asked to ________________. How would you approach that? If you needed help, how would you get it? If you made a mistake, how would you resolve it? Can you give me an example of a time when you did this, or wish you had?
What would you most like to learn from this position? Achieve?
In short, don’t make this harder than it is. Culture fit and inclusion are not conflicting initiatives. If you need help, let us know. In the meantime, you might find these resources helpful:
- Take the Next Step: You Have to Create the Partnership, Too (Blog Post)
- Using Your Third Ear to Uncover Implicit Biases (Blog Post)
- It’s Easier to Leave a Demon (Blog Post)
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).