Biased… who, me?
Date: 9th February 2019
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In hiring, bias is bad. There are no two ways about it. Be it unconscious or conscious, bias gets in the way and stops us from making the right hiring decisions.

Unconscious biasHow often does bias happen in recruiting? As a coach, I am pretty tuned in to how I tick, and have a strong awareness of my unconscious drivers and decision-making habits. That’s what attracted me to one of my latest roles, as a lay member on selection panels that ensure the Judicial Appointments Commission makes the best recommendations when appointing new judges and non-legal members of tribunals (I’ve included a full explanation at the end of this article).

Currently there’s a strong focus on making the judiciary more diverse, and with my background in headhunting, recruitment and selection, I felt I could make a difference… but could I?

My experience of being on a selection panel.

Joining the judicial selection panel is certainly not a job for the faint hearted. The selection process is rigorous, often lasting up to six weeks. The selection panel (myself included) are all thoroughly briefed on the role, the skills and the competencies required, and go through practice assessments with professional actors. We’re all given a briefing on unconscious biases, how to be aware of these and what to do to counter them. And this, unsurprisingly, is the greatest challenge.

Gender bias in the (simulated) courtroom…

I was recently sitting on a panel alongside a female judicial member and a male panel chair, when a well-dressed authoritative female candidate walked in for the role-play section of her interview. She handled the situation calmly and confidently, even when the actor stormed out and slammed the door in the simulated courtroom setting! After the role-play, the panel sat down to score the candidate on four specific skills. Both the female judicial member and I gave her top marks. We were both taken aback when the male chair presented his average scores – were we assessing the same candidate?

After some vigorous discussion, we settled on above average rather than top marks. The male chair had found areas of analysis and detail missing in her performance, which the female judicial member and I had missed. He had not been influenced by the candidate’s outward appearance and strong people skills. It reminded us to stick to the evidence, and listen closely to what candidates are saying, not just how they are performing!

Having slept on it, I asked the female judge if she thought we might have both been biased towards the female candidate. She agreed, we probably were. We both came from backgrounds where women did not have equal opportunities – my mother had to stop working when she had kids and was a frustrated housewife for 50 years. “I’m never going to be like my mother” was my mantra at school and University (and if I’m honest, probably ever since). No wonder that I was susceptible to a professional, well-dressed and confident female candidate.

The experience made us both more diligent in the way we collected evidence in further interviews. And funnily enough, the panel scoring became much more aligned rather than being miles apart, giving us confidence that we were delivering a good, consistent standard of decision making.

What’s your bias?

So there you have it, my bias! But what’s yours? It’s a question I so often ask my clients, and not many can answer straight away. We all have biases, we’re human after all. Bias helps us to make sense of the world, based on our experiences and our history. Once you’ve identified your bias, it’s much easier to make better hiring decisions. Decisions that aren’t based on your own experience or preferences, but based on the evidence and the candidate’s capability.

Build a strong, unbiased selection panel that will make good hiring decisions.

This may seem like an obvious first step, but deciding who sits on your ‘selection committee’ is one of the most important decisions when it comes to hiring.

For most organisations, you will need two to three people on your committee or panel. Members of your selection committee should be objective, know what is expected of them, and should fully represent your company’s best interests.

Don’t have a selection panel or committee in place? Think outside the organisation.

If you run a small business, then this panel might just include you. That’s where having an external, impartial panel member is crucial to ensure you make unbiased, rigorous decisions.

That’s usually where companies pick up the phone to me! I often find myself working with organisations that want to get a robust and efficient recruitment process in place so they can hire effectively. Whether that’s helping to conduct screening interviews, sitting on the panel, bringing bias to the forefront of hiring managers minds, or helping to analyse candidates’ suitability. Hiring is the most vital step of business, yet it still seems to be neglected by many organisations.

A strong hiring panel adds value.

Having a robust selection panel will undoubtedly add value to your company. Not only does it give candidates a more professional and impressive first impression of you, but it also makes them more likely to accept the job.

You don’t have to trust me on this one, there are heaps of articles and research that agree that using the selection panel process gives better hiring results. New hires stay longer, perform better, and help to drive their organisations forwards. Sound good?

My skills lie in:

  • Conducting interviews: using a structured process and asking probing questions to test the suitability of candidates
  • Quickly analysing a large quantity of information, and condensing it into balanced, clear and concise evidence-based reports
  • Helping organisations to achieve diversity in hiring
  • Recognising and overcoming bias.

Don’t neglect the interview stage, and don’t rush it either. My experience of sitting on judicial selection panels has reinforced my opinion that interviews need to be thorough, unbiased and evidence-based. Are yours?

If you are thinking about hiring and want to adopt a more successful process, then I would love to work with you. Feel free to get in touch for a no-pressure chat. 


More info about the role of the Judicial Appointments Commission selection panel:

Panels are responsible for assessing all the evidence of a candidate’s merits against a competency framework for the post, either by reviewing their applications and references, or in face-to-face interviews. JAC Commissioners make the final decision about who to recommend for judicial appointment and rely on high quality panel assessments to make that decision.

These are challenging and demanding posts, and it is not always a 9 to 5 role. You will work with intellectually able and articulate candidates and fellow panellists, under time pressure, while ensuring fairness and consistency in assessment.

Essential requirements experience of sitting on selection or assessment panels for senior professionals from diverse backgrounds (that is, not exclusively internal promotions or drawing from limited pools).

More information can be found on the Judicial Appointments Commission website.

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