The issues of bias within tech are well-documented. Companies everywhere are attempting to adjust their hiring and retention processes to eliminate that bias, but progress has been slow.
Whether it be race, age, gender, orientation, or something else, you don’t need to look hard to find stories of people who believe bias was instrumental in why they were passed over for a job, or used as a cudgel to make them uncomfortable in a position they already had.
We once wrote about how job-seekers can help dissuade ageism by demonstrating working mastery of products and services that relate to a particular job, and showcasing their experience during every interview round. It’s a similar deal for technologists from every walk of life: Show you have what it takes to do the job, along with passion for the underlying technology, and chances are good that you’ll stand out amidst the crowd of applicants for a particular role.
But that still doesn’t eliminate the specter of bias during the hiring process—especially the interview rounds. With the pandemic forcing everyone to work and interview remotely, it’s worth asking what it’ll take to ensure that as much bias as possible is eliminated from video interviewing and remote testing.
Dmytro Okunyev, Founder at Chanty, which builds team-chat software, believes that remote interviewing is broken:
While hiring remotely should give us the ideal unbiased hiring practices that we all desire, the truth is that this is far from reality. While some discrimination is eliminated, most companies still function on the same principles where applicants send in their resumes. Then hiring managers discriminate based on gender, age, education, work experience and everything else that comes to mind. I see it happening in my industry all the time and all the claims of being diverse are overstated to say the least. We’ll only reach true diversity and elimination of bias when we start hiring based on the ability to get the job done and not based on resumes and cover letters.
Shannon Hogue, Global Head of Solutions Engineering at Karat, a platform for remotely interviewing tech candidates, agrees with that assessment, while noting that many hiring managers also display a bias toward where candidates went to school.
“If your resume screens out candidates from outside the top-10 computer science schools, then you’ve created artificial scarcity, and what’s worse, you’ve automatically constrained the diversity of your pipeline to the diversity of those schools,” she said. “Expanding your university recruiting to HBCUs, putting out open coding challenges, work sample reviews, and starting apprenticeship programs are all ways to assess competencies that don’t show up on a resume.”
Remote interview situations, she continued, may exacerbate unconscious bias on the part of even the most well-meaning interviewers and hiring managers:
Some interview questions intentionally test a candidate’s ability to handle ambiguity by leaving out key pieces of information, but these can also insert bias. Cultural biases, in particular, encourage women and people of color to accommodate others. This bias often penalizes assertiveness by interpreting it as “aggression,” or “bossy.” And people internalize these cultural norms. Women are less likely to ask follow-up or clarifying questions unless specifically prompted to do so for fear of coming across as “bitchy.”
Is there a way to overcome this? Of course, but companies must dedicate the time and resources necessary to eliminate bias. For example, reinforcing (via structured rubrics and objective scoring) which competencies matter will prevent interviewers from passing over strong candidates.
It also comes down to requiring interviewers and hiring managers to face their bias. That requires instituting company-wide programs to promote diversity and help employees overcome any preconceptions. Recording interviews with candidates, and then using those recordings to help interviewers identify their unconscious bias, could also prove helpful.
Roy Edwards, President and COO at Capitol Presence, thinks remote interviewing can actually be a net-positive when applied correctly:
The pandemic has forced Universities to do more online college fairs, so we were able to interview and get access to multiple University candidates we would not have otherwise been able to meet with. A majority of the candidates we interviewed were women and minority candidates who we might not have been able to meet with had remote conversation and work not had been an option.
Bias must be addressed and challenged if it’s to be beaten. This was true pre-pandemic, and it’s true in a remote-first environment. It’s up to employers to do whatever they can to eliminate bias in the interviewing process, even if that means implementing rigorous scoring and review systems.
This unprecedented moment in the tech industry (and the economy at large) might prove the perfect time to address long-term shortcomings in the interview process. Remote interviewing can become an extremely fair way to evaluate candidates—and contribute to companies creating even more diverse workforces.