The burden of political rhetoric and rising levels of anxiety regarding “woke” sentiment does not exonerate business leaders from creating fair and inclusive hiring practices at their organizations. And, if demographics are taken into account – a future with more women in the workforce and younger generations taking over leadership positions – then today’s executives have a lot to lose if they don’t ensure equity now.

The equation is straightforward. Customers, clients, and stakeholders increasingly expect companies to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in today’s socially conscious organizational landscape. The consequences for leaders who don’t include damaging brand value, losing customer trust, faltering in talent recruitment and retention, and facing shareholder backlash.

Here are five action items leaders can implement to mitigate bias and foster fair hiring practices:

Expand the Decision-Making Team

All humans experience bias. The first step is to recognize the fact and create processes to overcome them, like including multiple individuals in the decision-making team. Decisions made collectively can counterbalance individual biases, particularly when team members have different backgrounds, experiences, and roles. A collaborative approach can prevent groupthink, where homogeneous teams may unknowingly favor candidates who resemble themselves or come from similar experiences.

Broaden the Talent Pool

Many organizations tend to restrict hiring efforts to a limited number of prestigious colleges and universities. While these institutions may produce exceptional talent, reliance on them perpetuates a lack of diversity. Leaders can broaden opportunities by actively seeking candidates from a broader range of educational institutions, professional organizations, and communities.

Utilize Rubrics to Eliminate Bias

People’s unconscious bias exists, even when well intentioned. Hiring managers can utilize rubrics as a tool to create fair hiring processes and reduce bias. The structured framework might initially feel stilting, but it creates an equitable method for evaluating qualifications, skills, and experience. Rubrics are beneficial in moving decision making from subjective to objective, thereby increasing the likelihood of fair assessments.

Remove Identifying Information

The urge to use social media to get a gauge on a candidate’s background, experiences, and opinions might seem ubiquitous, but it intensifies the natural inclination to pre-judge candidates on factors that are irrelevant to the position. Talent managers can keep the focus on qualifications and the interview by removing information such as names, genders, ages, graduation dates, and other details that may trigger unconscious bias. The result is a culture that promotes merit-based hiring and enhanced fairness.

Provide Unconscious Bias Training

Recognizing unconscious bias is a good first step, but there are courses, certifications and training programs that help leaders identify and challenge their own biases. These types of initiatives send a strong message about an organization’s values, while simultaneously empowering individuals and teams. No one would expect someone to dig a ditch without a shovel, so organizations should equip their hiring teams with the tools needed to create a truly inclusive workplace.

By prioritizing inclusivity and diversity, business leaders can build stronger teams, foster innovation, and cultivate a workplace where every individual can thrive based on their unique perspectives and talents. Through these collective efforts, leaders can shape a future where opportunities are truly equal and organizations become beacons of fairness and inclusivity.

Jackie Ferguson is co-founder and vice president of content and programming at The Diversity Movement. She wrote The Inclusive Language Handbook and hosts “Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox,” a top-rated podcast. She was named to the 2023 Inc. Female Founders 200 list.