How to Address Implicit Bias in Healthcare HR Processes

How to Address Implicit Bias in Healthcare HR Processes
Senior Director of Marketing

Diversity and inclusion directly impact business outcomes. When diverse employees feel welcome to bring their backgrounds, experiences, and complete identities to their work, they benefit from new ideas and ways of working. But when that’s missing, the business loses opportunities to improve or expand.

Implicit bias is a constant factor working against our efforts towards diversity and inclusion. “These beliefs perpetuate stereotypes, and that can influence your behaviors towards others,” says Kristin Fitchpatric, a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare. For example, the effects of bias lead hiring managers and supervisors to favor certain candidates or employees, creating homogeneity.

Often, the people who suffer most from implicit bias are individuals from historically marginalized groups. The stakes are incredibly high in healthcare: A lack of diversity among healthcare staff can increase the likelihood of bias creeping into patient care.

Here are some best practices for preventing the harmful effects of implicit bias in your healthcare HR processes.

Focus on Recruiting Diverse Talent

The first step to overcoming the impact of bias in HR processes is casting a wide net to attract qualified diverse candidates. “Most companies are not intentional in terms of how they’re recruiting diverse candidates,” says Rachel Orston, Chief Customer Officer at SmartRecruiters. Consider partnering with a local historically black college and university (HBCU) or nonprofit to create a paid internship program, for example. And update your career site to include more inclusive branding. 

Most importantly, make sure you are evaluating all candidates using a precise set of assessments and standards specific to each role. These kinds of scorecards foster transparency and accountability, which is a great mitigator of bias. Yet, currently only 26% of companies use scorecards and assessments to make data-driven hiring decisions every time, according to SmartRecruiters’ State of Diversity Hiring report.

Without objective criteria, hiring managers fall back on making decisions based on their own preferences, allowing bias to creep in. New hires tend to become more homogenous as people in the hiring process prioritize familiarity over diversity.

Finally, HR leaders must be thoughtful and intentional about who is brought into the interview process. Ensuring that all interview panels include at least one diverse panelist, Orston says, can help create the awareness needed to put bias in check.

Develop Fair Performance Measures

HR can bring objectivity to all aspects of performance evaluation, too. By setting clear criteria for performance assessments, HR can help supervisors carry out more fair and objective performance management.

Minimizing bias in performance management can give diverse talent better opportunities for promotion and leadership roles. “Review promotion and mentorship opportunities available to minorities and underrepresented groups,” Fitchpatric says. “How are you creating succession plans for leaders?”

Our bias causes us to gravitate towards people who are most similar to us. Without objective criteria for leadership and promotion, a lot of those decisions are heavily influenced by our biases — causing us to overlook qualified talent from diverse groups time and time again.

Promote Equitable Pay and Opportunities

Lack of pay equity remains a concern for healthcare HR. Men in healthcare roles consistently make more than women performing the same work. Start by conducting a comprehensive pay audit to identify existing gaps.

Investigate the causes of pay inequity, too. While pay decisions aren’t made directly based on someone’s gender, for example, there are circumstances wrapped around gender that are used to justify lower pay, like absence from the workforce while raising children. Only by addressing the biases that lead to pay equity can we come to a solution.

Healthcare organizations will never wholly eliminate implicit bias, but HR can implement processes to combat its effects in the workplace.