One Diverse Résumé Seen as Token

May 5, 2016 9:27 am

tokenThe chances one woman or one minority among a pool of white male candidates will get hired aren’t good.

By Eve Tahmincioglu

A hiring manager or recruiter who gets one woman or minority on a slate of candidates probably feels good about their diversity efforts, especially if the position is for an executive-level job.

But recently released research shows they may want to hold off patting themselves on the back.

It turns out having just one diverse candidate isn’t enough to shift the status quo, according to a study by three University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business professors of management, whose research was published in the Harvard Business Review last week.

From the article:

“When there was only one woman or minority candidate in a pool of four finalists, their odds of being hired were statistically zero. But when we created a new status quo among the finalist candidates by adding just one more woman or minority candidate, the decision makers actually considered hiring a woman or minority candidate.”

What’s going on? Unconscious bias.

The study’s authors, led by Stefanie K. Johnson, an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Leeds School, found that having just one minority or woman in the pool highlighted the fact that the candidate wasn’t part of the status quo and was different from the norm.

The authors wrote:

“Deviating from the norm can be risky for decision makers, as people tend to ostracize people who are different from the group. For women and minorities, having your differences made salient can also lead to inferences of incompetence.”

What happens is the one diverse candidate is seen as a “token,” Johnson told me in a recent interview. She advised that “if you have four candidates, you should have two women. If you can’t find two women you may not be doing a good job recruiting.”

Indeed, smart companies seem to get this, with many pushing to get more than just one diverse candidate in the mix when hiring.

Genentech, No. 49 on the 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, requires its external recruiters to present a candidate slate with at least 30 percent gender diversity for at least 80 percent of executive positions. When it comes to women in senior leadership, Genentech outpaces U.S. companies by 83 percent, the Top 50 by nearly 40 percent and 17 percent of the Top 10.

Another way to deal with this unconscious bias is blind recruiting and removing names from résumés. A diversity leader at another Top 50 company told me that her company was testing this approach on a small scale to see how it works.

Because it’s too early to gauge its success, she doesn’t want to discuss details just yet.

But based on Johnson’s research, she believes removing names is a good idea. “At the very least,” she noted, “you’re creating an even playing field; and my belief is women will do better if hiring managers don’t know the gender.”

If you’ve tried blind recruiting, or are adding more than one diverse candidate to candidate slates at your organization, we’d love to hear from you. Email me at etahmincioglu@diversityinc.com.