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ConveyIQ Spotlight: Unconscious Bias With Gail Tolstoi-Miller

Posted by Amy Onorato

Think about it: has a candidate ever walked into an in-person interview, and you knew in your gut it was a “no” before you even asked your first question?

When you sit down to interview a potential hire, in a way, their future’s in your hands. You ask your questions, take notes, and hopefully evaluate whether or not they’re the best person to join your company. But sometimes, judgement is not too far off from the high school cafeteria — is this candidate “cool” enough to join your company’s “clique?”

Just ask Gail Tolstoi-Miller, a former self-proclaimed New York City Goth girl, recruiter, career coach, CEO, and mastermind behind the “So What” revolution — a new movement meant to challenge the way recruiters eliminate unconscious bias during the hiring process, and in life.

“Every recruiter has this. “So if they say they don’t have it, they’re in denial — or they’re lying.”

“Every recruiter has this,” Tolstoi-Miller says. “So if they say they don’t have it, they’re in denial — or they’re lying.”

Earlier this year, Miller took to TEDx to talk about the issue of stereotypical hiring, and how recruiters could be missing out on the best talent because of it. Take the Interview sat down with Miller for a more in-depth look at her insights:

ConveyIQ: When did you realize unconscious bias was a problem in recruiting?

Gail: It became very apparent that a lot of companies — I would say most companies — do have this unconscious bias. You can’t prevent it, because it’s based on our own perceptions, our own experiences — what happened in our life, how we view the world. So if you view the world a certain way and you interview a candidate and they don’t fit that world — or you hire a person because they fit into your world, even if they’re not the best candidate (it can happen both ways) — that became very frustrating to me.

ConveyIQ: How does unconscious bias impact job seekers?

Gail: When most people think about reasons they’re not getting hired, they don’t realize some of it is due to unconscious bias. And if the candidate realizes that, they would be able to use that to their advantage. It’s really important to understand that because the best candidates don’t always win.

ConveyIQ: In your TEDx talk, you mention that you did an “audit” on your own unconscious bias. How did you do that, and what did you learn?

Gail: When I did it myself, it was definitely eye-opening. What I found happen was, the negativity started to rub off on me. So for instance, if a hiring manager said ‘ugh, the person’s not right because of this,’ then I would start getting acclimated to that and start seeing things that way because that’s what the hiring manager wants.

"I found that some of the people I was hiring for my own company, I was hiring because they made me feel safe."

But then I said ‘wait, what am I doing? I don’t believe in this’ and I started questioning everything that I did, looking back on my records, the candidates…and asking myself ‘why?’ I found that some of the people I was hiring for my own company, I was hiring because they made me feel safe…it’s where you want to hire people like you that have a similar background.

ConveyIQ: How can recruiters challenge hiring managers that may have different beliefs?

Gail: What really helps me is when I started challenging my clients with ‘so what?’ When they would make a comment, I would say, ‘Okay, so what? How does that affect them doing their job?’ Why would I say no to someone if they’re amazing just because of a certain characteristic?

But it’s not only that. Processes and procedures need to be in place, and there needs to be consistency with interviewing. There needs to be guidelines as to what’s important — what are the requirements, what are the must-haves?

"You need to reevaluate and say ‘well, what’s inside of me that’s holding me back?’"

If a candidate has all those requirements, and you don’t end up hiring them, you need to step back and figure out why. If you can’t answer that — and it has to be a valid reason — then you need to reevaluate and say ‘well, what’s inside of me that’s holding me back?’

It’s really taking responsibility for oneself, and creating a process around that to alleviate the unconscious bias. It is a constant state of self-checking and self-awareness.

ConveyIQ: How can re-evaluating for bias help make better hires?

Gail: As recruiters and as leaders, we need to know our blindspots. If we don’t know what our blindspots are in the recruiting process and within ourselves, we’re going to be shortsighted and make mistakes.