Countering implicit bias, or unconscious bias, in the recruitment process to improve talent pipeline diversity may be as simple as partitioning candidate applications into different categories, according to a group of researchers. The report, Let's choose one of each: Using the partition dependence effect to increase diversity in organizations, was published in May, and then a July 21 analysis by the authors in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) explained how categorizing applicants increases the probability that qualified, diverse applicants won't get overlooked.
The authors said that "partition dependence bias" can occur when a person has to select multiple options out of numerous, uncategorized options. If the options are grouped together by categories, an individual is more likely to choose some options from each group, thus creating a more diverse selection, the researchers said. In the study, 121 experienced HR managers were asked to review the profiles and resumes of 16 job applicants who graduated from four top universities. One group of HR professionals was given resumes in alphabetical order, but not organized by specific categories. Meanwhile, another group was given resumes categorized by university. All of the HR professionals were asked to select four candidates to interview.
In the group that received uncategorized resumes, 14% of HR managers chose candidates from all four universities, according to researchers. However, the percentage increased to 35% when the resumes were categorized by university. The researchers found the results were similar when candidates were categorized by gender, ethnicity and nationality. This method "only draws managers' attention to qualified minority candidates who might otherwise not attract their attention," the researchers said in HBR. However, they also noted that categorizing applicants is only effective if managers don't have strong biases against a particular group.