Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Fall 2007

Jon M. Huntsman School of Business class develops training system for university

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto, BottomLine contributor

Often employers go beyond what is on paper as they decide who to hire.

A resume acquaints them with each candidate's skills, background and education, but nothing yields as much critical information as the face-to-face interview. When interviewers recount initial meetings with prospective employees, they speak of encounters that "just clicked" or prospects "who weren't the right fit."

Gut instincts can be valuable indicators in the hiring process. Many employers, however, want to be sure that personal biases don't keep them from selecting the best candidate.

Utah State University undergraduates in Robert Mills' management information systems development class undertook the daunting challenge of creating a training system to aid university employees in practicing unbiased employee recruitment and hiring practices.

Business undergrads, from left, Teri Lewis, Cammy Telford, Eduardo Martinez, Ashlee Gardner, Devin Hirschi, Adam Pitcher and Erinn Reed developed a training program to help university employers reduce bias in hiring practices.
Business undergrads, from left, Teri Lewis, Cammy Telford, Eduardo Martinez, Ashlee Gardner, Devin Hirschi, Adam Pitcher and Erinn Reed developed a training program to help university employers reduce bias in hiring practices.

The students' endeavor bolsters the efforts of USU's ADVANCE program, which seeks to promote gender equality and increased diversity throughout campus. USU is one of just 19 institutions nationwide to receive a National Science Foundation grant to fund efforts to create a workplace that fosters gender equality in the university's science, technology, engineering and math programs. The NSF funds were awarded in a five-year grant, which USU received in 2003.

In their report, "Excellence Through Diversity," students Ashlee Gardner, Devin Hirschi, Teri Lewis, Eduardo Martinez, Adam Pitcher, Erinn Reed and Cammy Telford asserted that increased diversity among faculty boosts creativity, improves faculty retention and makes the university more attractive to prospective students and faculty.

Ronda Callister is an associate professor of Management and a principal investigator for USU's ADVANCE program.

"It's impossible to create a bias-free environment," she said. "The goal is to reduce bias."

She and fellow investigators reviewed the students' proposed training program at each step of its development and offered suggestions.

"We started with a thick notebook of data on science-based training programs and spent a lot of time sorting through the information," Pitcher said. "USU's ADVANCE team offered help along the way, including suggestions that we narrow our examples to case studies and research articles based specifically on academic searches."

To aid hiring decision makers in their quest, the students reasoned that their training program should follow a two-pronged approach. Not only does their training packet include materials that explain the process of selecting a new employee, but it includes recommendations for the assembly of a search committee using a fair, unbiased approach.

The search committee, the students concluded, should include members of both genders and represent diverse backgrounds. Second, search committee leaders should serve as role models for all members. "Role models should be identified who are willing to reveal their own biases and how they deal with them," the students wrote.

"We think that makes a powerful statement," said Martinez. "When committee members acknowledge their own biases, they encourage others to examine themselves honestly."

Recognizing one's own biases is the first step in developing ways to counter them, the students said. Sometimes biases are very subtle and committee members aren't even aware of them.

"We've compiled a list of common biases to help people identify and deal with common pitfalls," Pitcher said.

Frequent biases, the students wrote, included stereotypes, double standards, same-sex biases, projection and the so-called "Halo-horns effect," where interviewers place too much emphasis on first impressions. Examples of the latter would be assuming a physically attractive candidate is a better worker and more qualified than a less-attractive person.

Quizzes are included in the training program to ensure that participants understand and retain the training material.

The second part of the training program instructs participants in the preparation of a hiring decision matrix and a position description that carefully identifies the specific needs and wants of the position along with the weight criteria of essential job functions.

Creating a culture of diversity requires diligent, conscious effort, the students concluded.

"Diversity means you have the presence of a wide range of variation in personal qualities and attributes," said Pitcher. "Diversity increases ideas and perspectives and fosters a dynamic learning environment. That's what makes the university more attractive to prospective students and faculty."