Inclusive hiring: removing bias in teacher hiring

Inclusive hiring: removing bias in teacher hiring

Your school’s hiring process is important. The educators you hire have a huge impact on the school community, culture, safety, student learning outcomes, growth, and more. 

With such an important task at hand, this process must be the best it can be.

While standard hiring protocols like a criminal record and reference checks provide crucial insights further into a candidate's evaluation, it’s also imperative that we take an honest and open look at how we approach this process and interact with applicants from the outset.

Disclaimer: You may consider yourself an honest, open, and accepting person, this is likely true. However, there are many social, economic, and other external factors that can create bias in our everyday lives (and in our hiring process) that you may not even be consciously aware of. 

We challenge you to read on with an open mind, start a dialogue with your peers, and reflect on how you and your school could do better in regards to inclusivity.  

Before we look at the many ways bias can present itself during the hiring process, let’s first understand what it truly means.

Understanding bias: The two types of biases

Generally, bias can be split into two primary definitions; implicit or explicit bias.

  1. Explicit biases are biases that we are conscious of, can control, and are aware of. Overt racism is one example of explicit bias. 
  2. Implicit biases are unconscious biases, perceptions, stereotypes, and beliefs we have developed from our past experiences and influences. They are typically automatic reactions to a person(s) or situation, unintentional and deeply ingrained. This type of reference is often considered to be somewhat more socially acceptable than explicit bias, more difficult to identify. Unfortunately, it is incredibly common in workplace situations such as hiring and staff management.

Recognizing implicit bias

Implicit or unconscious biases are learned stereotypes that influence our behavior; they are often described as ‘subtle.’ However, this isn’t very accurate at all.

As we identify how they can present themselves in the hiring process, you’ll start to see they are quite bold and have an incredibly negative impact on your school culture, performance, and growth. 

While we are exposed to examples of bias in our society now more than ever, these instances are centered around police interactions and the criminal justice system. 

It’s also important to explore how implicit bias can show up in other aspects of everyday life.
Let's take a closer look at how implicit biases can negatively impact your hiring process and ultimately your school. 

Types of implicit bias that are common in the hiring process:

  1. Affinity bias
  2. Name bias
  3. Gender bias
  4. Ageism
  5. Confirmation bias
  6. Halo effect

Affinity bias

Also known as the similarity bias, it is the tendency people have to connect with others who share similar interests, experiences, and backgrounds. 

Avoid this by actively taking note of the similarities you share so that you can differentiate between attributes that may cloud your judgment and the concrete skills, experiences, and unique qualities that would serve as “culture add” rather than “culture fit”.

Name bias

This is the tendency people have to judge and prefer people with certain types of names, typically names that are of “Anglo origin.” A name should never be a factor when hiring an applicant. 

Avoid this by omitting name and personal information – like name, email, and address – from application materials. 

Omitting personal information will ensure that hiring teams select candidates based on their skills and experiences without the influence of irrelevant personal information.

Gender bias

This is the tendency to prefer one gender over another. In a hiring setting, conduct blind screenings of applications that exclude aspects of a candidate that may reveal their assumed gender. 

Make sure to compare candidates based on skill and merit rather than traits that could cloud your judgment.

Ageism

This is the tendency to have negative feelings about another person or their skill level based on their age.

Avoid this by training hiring staff to understand ageism and debunk some of the common myths about workers of different ages. 

Reinforce the importance of age diversity when recruiting new talent.

Confirmation bias

This describes the inclination to conclude a situation or person based on one’s personal beliefs and prejudices rather than on unbiased merit. 

It involves favoring or choosing information that fits in with one’s preexisting beliefs.

This bias is commonly found in the hiring process when a recruiter may have built an opinion of someone and subsequently seeks out information to confirm their original view. 

Avoid this by asking standardized, skill-based questions that provide each candidate with a fair chance to stand out.

Halo effect

This is the tendency to place another person on a pedestal after learning something impressive about them. 

It is a way of generalizing someone’s performance based on one specific characteristic of their personality or appearance. The opposite is commonly known as the “horns effect”.

Avoid this by considering candidates without that one exciting attribute and see how their experiences, skills, and personalities compare to other candidates who may not have had the same privileges or opportunities. 

Similarly, if you have a negative feeling about a candidate, take the time to figure out exactly where that “gut feeling’ is coming from. It may be something superficial or insignificant that shouldn’t affect their chance at the role.

Inclusive hiring

Here are a few actionable ways you can address hiring bias in your recruitment process:

  1. Remove bias in job descriptions. 
  2. Ask better interview questions.
  3. Use several interviewers and several interviews.
  4. Find better predictors of performance. 
  5. Try blind hiring to reduce hiring bias.
  6. Get bias in hiring training.

Remove bias in job descriptions.

Take a look at some of your job postings and identify any gender-specific or biased language that may discourage diverse candidates from applying. 

Terms like “native-English speaker” or “neutral accent” are especially common in international education. 

At Teach Away and Klassroom, we recently committed to removing these terms from existing job postings and setting new community guidelines to prevent hiring schools from using such language moving forward. 

The truth is, students and faculty, can only benefit from being exposed to all the ways language is spoken.

Ask better interview questions.

Thinking carefully about the questions you ask is critical to removing bias from interviews.
One of the most common interview questions is one of the most unfair

Behavioral questions like, "tell me about a time when you..." may put candidates with less experience at a disadvantage. And it doesn’t help you analyze how a candidate might overcome a common situation in your workplace. 

You want to identify the candidate's behavior rather than their recall and storytelling skills to evaluate candidates accurately. 

Try to replace, “tell me about a time when…”, with “what would you do in a situation if ‘x’ occurred?”

You’ll also want to ensure you’re asking the same questions in all interviews. 

Evaluating candidates with different questions is pretty much the same as giving all your students a different history test and then telling them you’re providing a good grade. Too much variance won’t allow you to create an honest evaluation. 
 
Use several interviewers and several interviews. 

Your first impression of someone impacts all of the following impressions of the person. 

We form a first impression within the first 15 seconds of meeting someone, which is far too quick to know a candidate.

In addition to first impressions, we often have the innate tendency to surround ourselves with people just like us. 

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant often discusses how interviewers try to hire themselves as we naturally favor candidates with personalities, attitudes, values, and backgrounds to our own.

The solution? Have your candidate interview with a few different people one at a time over a few interviews. 

A larger interview panel creates more chances for the candidate to make an impression on different people. The keyword here is ‘different’; make sure your hiring team is diverse. 

If you select a team of ‘like-minded’ colleagues with very similar lived experiences, you’ll likely overlook both red-flags and strengths of candidates in your hiring pool and miss out on an opportunity to diversify your workplace.

Find better predictors of performance.

It’s not uncommon that we place a lot of weight on standard measures like GPA or school ranking. 

As an educator, you likely know that some students may have an average GPA but incredible interpersonal skills that can’t be evaluated on paper. So why can’t we extend the same understanding to prospective employees?

Consider putting together a scorecard with some standard criteria and a simple rating system. 

Not only will this combat instances of the halo/horns effect, but it can also be a useful reference for yourself when reflecting upon the interview. Plus, it can enable your hiring team to engage in more productive discussions about potential new hires.

Give the Harvard Business Review’s free sample scorecard a try.

Try blind hiring to reduce hiring bias.

Simple information like knowing a candidate’s first and last name can trigger unconscious bias in hiring teams.

Research shows that applicants with "foreign-sounding" names were 28% less likely to get a callback even though they had identical education, experience, and resumes. 

Instead of relying on irrelevant reference points like name, try suppressing information from the recruiting process and focus on aspects of the candidate. 

New features like candidate recommendations and blind review are just some of the improvements coming to Teach Away and Klassroom’s hiring platform and Applicant Tracking System. It will be easier to decrease instances of hiring bias so you can find the best candidates for your jobs. 

The best teachers are also students. A great way to change or correct habits is through continuous learning. 

A great example is the Safe and Healthy Schools Certification Program from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Safe and Healthy Schools.

While this school training and certification program is not specific to hiring training, it does provide holistic training for many aspects of school wellness and safety. 

It includes training around:

  • Building a resilient school community.
  • Identifying the causes of both teacher and student trauma - stemming from both implicit and explicit biases.
  • Recognizing disproportionality in student disciplines, again often due to biases. 

An added benefit of school-wide training is empowering all teachers and school leaders with the tools they need to make positive choices in all aspects of the school community, including hiring and encouraging an honest and open dialogue.  

Helpful Resources

  • Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt’s work focuses on exposing racial bias at all levels of society--in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and criminal justice system, and providing us with tools to address it. Read her book Biased, watch her discuss her work in this TED Talk, or listen to her interview on Armchair Expert.
  • Why America Needs More Black Male Teachers - As we’ve discovered, implicit biases develop throughout our lives. Providing children with educators of all genders, orientations, backgrounds, and races can prevent common biases from forming, specifically more dangerous ones such as the misrepresentation or vilification of the Black man.
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching - Bias can go beyond hiring. Unfortunately, it can have an impact on how we see and treat students. By fostering a deeper understanding of different cultures and how we interact with them we can provide a safe and successful classroom experience for all students.
  • Safe and Healthy Schools Certification Program - Implicit and explicit biases can also create disproportionate student disciplines, impact how we approach various types of student trauma, and affect overall school wellness and safety. Enroll your school in training from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Safe and Healthy Schools 
  • Worklife with Adam Grant - Organizational Psychologist analyses the many common personal and organizational mistakes and habits that impact our work lives. In this specific episode, he explores reinventing the job interview.
  • Perception Institute - This organization provides more in-depth definitions, examples, research, and solutions for addressing both explicit and implicit bias.