How Anthem is Driving Bias Out of Its Talent-Acquisition Process

Tracy Edmonds is leading the charge to ensure bias doesn't shortchange candidates or the company.
By: | September 27, 2018 • 3 min read

Indianapolis-based health insurer Anthem Inc. recently made its eighth consecutive appearance on the DiversityInc Top 50 list. This award follows Anthem’s recent recognitions by Forbes as one of America’s Best Employers; placement on Veteran Recruiting’s VetFriendly Top Ten Employers List and the “Best Places to Work” for LGBT equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

What’s the company’s secret to success?

We spoke with Anthem Chief Diversity Officer Tracy Edmonds to find out. Edmonds, one of the panelists at the Glassdoor Recruit event held today in Chicago, says the company wanted to address unconscious bias and keep it out of its hiring process.

“We know that unconscious bias plays a role in many decisions made throughout the talent lifecycle,” says Edmonds. “We wanted to ensure our employees are armed with information at the moment they’re making these decisions.”

Information in “Bite-Size Chunks”

Edmonds and her team introduced an e-learning program created by the NeuroLeadership Institute called “Decide: The Neuroscience of Breaking Bias,” which includes a series of five-minute videos about some of the more common biases that can creep into the decision-making process around hiring, promoting and succession. Each video is accompanied by a one-page outline summarizing things to watch out for.

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“Providing information in bite-size chunks—that’s the idea,” she says.

The team started off with Anthem’s 250 top leaders, offering them the training first. “Our approach was to not make this mandatory—we didn’t want it to be the chief diversity officer saying ‘Thou shalt not be biased!’ ” says Edmonds. “We wanted to present this as a tool that would help them make better talent decisions.”

The feedback was phenomenal, she says. “These were busy executives who said to me candidly ‘I wasn’t looking forward to this, but I ended up getting so much value from it,’ and ‘We didn’t think it would be so easy!’ ”

A key to the program’s success, says Edmonds, was its brevity and simplicity.

After the organization’s top leaders, the program was cascaded down through Anthem’s various business units, with the executives who’d already participated serving as champions, she says. It started last summer and continues to be introduced to new leaders.

Structured Candidate Interviews 

It’s far from the only thing Anthem is doing to keep bias out of its talent processes. Edmonds has also looked closely at candidate interviews, where bias often creeps in, she says.

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The company is piloting a structured interview process, in which candidates are interviewed by three or four employees from diverse backgrounds—diverse not just in ethnicity or gender but educational background as well, she says.

“We want to get multiple points of view,” says Edmonds.

Questions for the structured interviews remain the same for all candidates, and the questions themselves are behaviorally focused to ensure  hiring decisions are based on factors other than just years of experience, she says.

“One of the most critical roles of a leader is as an ongoing developer of talent, and we wanted to put more structure and formality around that,” says Edmonds. “You change the process, not the people.”

Within Anthem itself, Edmonds has taken a hard look at the career arcs of men vs. women and people of color vs. whites to identify potential barriers to advancement. The company has introduced cross-cultural mentoring programs and sponsorships, while ensuring its career development opportunities are inclusive.

“Some of the things that happen organically for the majority don’t happen as readily for the minority,” says Edmonds.

Andrew R. McIlvaine is senior editor for talent acquisition at Human Resource Executive®. He oversees coverage of talent acquisition and recruiting and also edits the weekly Recruiting Trends Bulletin e-newsletter and its associated website, RecruitingTrends.com. A Penn State graduate, Andy also spent two years in the U.S. Army prior to attending college and attained the rank of sergeant while serving in the Army Reserves. He can be reached at [email protected]

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