Hiring biases affecting many Oklahomans, experts say

The top five hiring biases are attractiveness, height, weight, charisma and educational background, studies have shown.
Oklahoman Modified: March 2, 2014 at 3:00 pm •  Published: March 2, 2014

Midwest City native Laura Redmon once went on an interview for a job that she, within minutes, knew she wasn’t going to get.

“I could tell by the questions the interviewer was asking — and the way he kept repeating them — that I was out, and it had to do with my weight,” she said.

Redmon, who’s 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds, was looking to move from the private to public sector in the same line of work she’d done for the previous 20 years: manufacturing airplane engine parts.

“The interviewer, who was a small man, kept asking me if I could work on my knees and in tight spaces on an airplane,” Redmon said. “He looked at me like I was a couch potato, but I was in good health, extremely active and very busy with three sons still at home,” she said.

A few months later, Redmon was called back for another interview, this time with five area supervisors.

She subsequently was hired as a sandblaster and promoted a year later to machine tool operator, where she worked six years until her retirement.

First impressions

Redmon’s experience doesn’t surprise human resources experts, who say biases and first impressions are inherent in everybody.

Studies show the top five are attractiveness, height, weight, charisma and educational background — from unnecessarily requiring a college degree and scoffing at degrees earned from online programs to favoring degrees earned from Ivy League schools or from hirers’ alma maters.

Oklahoma City human resources professional Gayla Sherry said one of her clients used to approximate and record the bust, waist and hip measurements of the women he interviewed for clerical positions — until she trained him not to. “He said it helped him remember the applicants when he was ready to make a decision,” Sherry said.

“The ability to put aside biases when interviewing is a learned skill,” she said.

Avoding lawsuits

Using a structured process to focus on job requirements, she said, not only helps employers hire the best person for the job, but also avoid lawsuits alleging discrimination based on race, gender, age, national origin, religion or disability, which are all protected categories under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Elaine Turner, an attorney with Hall Estill in Oklahoma City, said it’s permissible to consider applicants’ educational backgrounds and, though hard to objectify, charisma — as long as the standards are applied equally to all candidates.

“Charisma can be a very important quality for sales personnel,” she said, “but I’d caution against using it as selection criteria when it comes to hiring for positions that don’t have much contact with customers or the public.”

Similarly, outside of television reporters, models and other jobs where good looks are a bona fide occupational qualification, employers should avoid using attractiveness as criteria, Turner said.

by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Also ...

Did you know?

•Hiring biases are prevalent. Between Oct. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fielded about 100,000 job bias charges in the private sector.

•Taller workers make more money. A 2004 study by the University of North Carolina found that for every additional inch, people make $789 more per year.

•Heavier workers have lighter paychecks. Studies indicate obese people take home 2 percent to 12 percent fewer earnings over their lifetimes.

SOURCE: Chequed.com

Hiring tips

•Train recruiters on how to avoid hiring biases

•Use behavioral assessments to narrow the pool of applicants for interviews

•Involve coworkers in the interviewing process; avoid panel interviews because they encourage group think and one-upsmanship.

•Ask open-ended questions about how candidates would handle simulated work scenarios, such as “Describe a time you successfully resolved conflict” and “Describe a time you weren’t successful in resolving conflict, and what you might do differently.”

•Conduct comprehensive reference checks

•Reward recruiters who hire high-performing employees

SOURCES: Chequed.com and Oklahoma City human resources consultant Gayla Sherry

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