Employee Experience

How to remove unconscious bias in recruitment

7 Mins read

Bias is an inherent human trait that influences our preferences and opinions towards certain things, individuals, or groups. Even when we are unaware of it, our biases affect our decisions and behaviors, including those in the workplace.

According to Harvard University, 70% of people exhibit unconscious biases, which are automatic, unintentional, often shaped by societal stereotypes. Unconscious bias can lead to unfair hiring decisions, favoritism, and discrimination, ultimately hurting workplace diversity, morale, innovation, and productivity.

However, there are ways to mitigate the impact of unconscious bias in recruitment and selection processes. Check this article to learn how to remove unconscious bias in recruitment. 

What is unconscious bias in recruitment?

Unconscious bias, a subtle yet significant phenomenon, can impede an organization’s recruitment efforts. It operates like a blind spot that influences our perceptions about specific groups without us even realizing it. During recruitment, we may unconsciously favor men over women or white candidates over BIPOC candidates. These common biases can potentially cause organizations to miss out on exceptional talent, exacerbating an already existing talent shortage. In fact, studies have shown that 75% of job seekers have experienced bias during the recruitment process. Only 16% of organizations acknowledge the existence of such biases. Organizations must recognize and address unconscious biases to provide equal opportunities for candidates regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity.

What are the experts saying?

Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino notes that unconscious biases can negatively impact our judgment. IIt can lead to decisions that favor certain individuals or groups while harming others. This can obstruct diversity, recruitment, promotion, and retention efforts in the workplace. Iris Bohnet, the director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, who authored What Works: Gender Equality by Design, adds that biases, when left unchecked, can mold a company or industry’s culture and norms. According to her, “Seeing is believing,” and if we don’t see men in jobs typically held by women or women in jobs traditionally reserved for men, we apply different standards when evaluating job performance and making hiring and promotion decisions. Therefore, managers need to learn how to de-bias their practices and procedures. 

Here’s what Gail Tolstoi-Miller had to say on her TED Talk.

Examples of unconscious bias in recruitment

One of the most common forms of bias is affinity bias. It means we tend to favor people who are similar to us in terms of background, interests, or experiences. For instance, recruiters may be tempted to hire someone because they went same colleges or have similar hobbies as themselves. Similarly, when companies prioritize “culture fit,” they may unconsciously fall into the affinity bias trap.

Confirmation bias occurs when recruiters make judgments about a candidate based on their past experiences, volunteer efforts, or name. This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where the recruiter looks for evidence to back up their initial impressions rather than evaluating the candidate objectively.

Gender bias, also known as sexism, is the preference of one gender over another. This form of bias can manifest itself in various ways, such as dismissing a candidate’s qualifications or potential based on their gender.

The halo effect occurs when recruiters overestimate a candidate’s abilities or qualities because of a single impressive accomplishment, such as climbing Mount Everest or winning a prestigious award. Conversely, the horn effect occurs when recruiters reject a candidate who is otherwise qualified because of a negative characteristic or behavior, such as smoking.

Appearance bias is a form of bias that can manifest itself in different ways, such as weight bias, height bias, or beauty bias. This happens when recruiters assume that attractive, tall, or slender candidates are more competent and qualified than others. Conversely, recruiters may undervalue candidates who don’t fit these standards, such as short or overweight individuals. Unfortunately, studies show that appearance bias can have a significant impact on a person’s lifetime earnings, with taller individuals earning more than shorter ones, for instance.

Finally, conformity bias is a form of bias that arises when recruiters feel pressure to conform to the beliefs or attitudes of the hiring panel or group. This can prevent recruiters from considering diverse perspectives and potentially missing out on excellent talent.

5 best practices to remove unconscious bias in Recruitment

Now that we went through the examples, here are a few techniques you can use to remove unconscious bias in your organization. 

Address the root cause

While technology can help to some extent, addressing the root cause of the problem requires self-improvement.

Many companies are tackling this problem by running courses and workshops to make hiring managers aware of their biases. By doing so, they are able to assess candidates based on their skills, experience, and competencies. This way, mitigating their unconscious biases. This approach leads to a more diverse workforce, which better reflects the society they operate in.

Businesses must also consider their objectives and how they can achieve them through their recruitment process. By being open-minded about where they source their competencies, they can employ a wider range of people and benefit from the diversity of thought.

Blind Hiring

A promising solution to this issue is to promote “blind applications,” which remove personal details from resumes. For instance, GapJumpers, a startup company, has implemented this approach by removing resumes from the application process altogether. Instead, employers can develop customized tests that simulate the actual job requirements, and candidate applications are evaluated based on their test scores.

GapJumpers claims that 54% of its users are women, and among the highest performers on the platform, women account for 59%. These statistics demonstrate the potential of blind skills challenges to promote gender balance in the hiring process. Additionally, this approach can help eliminate biases related to educational and ethnic backgrounds, as well as age. By leveraging blind skills challenges, organizations can create a more equitable and inclusive hiring process.

Audit your hiring process

Revamp your approach to finding, interviewing, and onboarding job candidates to uncover any instances of bias in your hiring process. This could range from the language used in job descriptions to who is selected for interviews to how candidates are evaluated.

Upon reviewing your hiring process, you may find that your team tends to hire people with similar characteristics. Similarly, biases could be related to factors like race, gender, sexual orientation, age, education, appearance, disability, or background.

Upon examining your hiring process, you may discover that your team has a tendency to hire individuals who share similar characteristics with them. Alternatively, they may hold prejudices based on factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, education level, attractiveness, disability, where candidates grew up or attended school, and other factors.

To assess your hiring process, consider the following questions at each stage:

Application: Are you receiving sufficient applications from diverse candidates? Are job postings visible in locations where they will attract a diverse pool of candidates?

Eligibility: Are the criteria used to assess candidates’ objectives or based on intuition and instinct?

Referral: What standards do you employ to determine which candidates proceed to the referral stage? How do you decide which candidates are referred to the hiring manager?

Interview: Do you interview all referred candidates? Are there unconscious biases at play with the hiring manager?

Offer: Are job offers being extended to diverse candidates? Does the number of offers match the proportion of diverse candidates referred?

Hiring: Have you set goals for each stage of the hiring process? Are you striving to achieve these objectives with every new job opportunity?

Diversity goals

Diversity goals can benefit companies by putting the issue at the forefront. A study by McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in their executive teams were 36% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. However, it is important to approach the topic with caution to avoid potential controversy and backlash from traditionally advantaged groups. To ensure progress toward diversity goals, leaders should track their success at the end of every hiring process. This helps to maintain a focus on diversity and equality throughout the company.

unconscious bias pic

Making data-driven decisions can help reduce bias by removing some of the subjectivity and emotions influencing decision-making. Here are some statistics that highlight the importance of data in the hiring process:

  • A 2019 study by LinkedIn found that 79% of talent professionals agree that hiring will become more data-driven in the next 5 years.
  • According to a survey by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), 67% of organizations used data and analytics in their hiring process in 2018, up from 37% in 2017.
  • A study by Harvard Business Review found that resumes with traditionally African American names received 50% fewer callbacks compared to traditionally white names. However, when recruiters were presented with anonymous resumes with no identifying information, the callback rate for African American names increased by 7.5%.

These statistics show that data-driven hiring practices can help reduce bias in the hiring process and improve diversity and inclusion. By relying on objective data to evaluate candidates, employers can make more informed and fair hiring decisions. Here are the benefits of data-driven hiring practices in removing unconscious bias during recruitment.

Objectivity

The main benefits of using data in the hiring process is that it allows for greater objectivity in evaluation. When making hiring decisions based on emotions, intuition, or subjective impressions, it can be difficult to remain unbiased. Data-driven decision-making removes this subjectivity and allows employers to make more objective hiring decisions based on factual information and evidence.

Reduced Bias

Data-driven hiring practices can help reduce bias in the hiring process in several ways. For example, by using blind hiring techniques such as removing names and other personal information from resumes, employers can reduce the impact of unconscious biases. Employers can ensure that they evaluate all candidates using the same criteria and reduce the impact of personal biases and preferences by using structured interview questions and rating scales.

Improved Diversity and Inclusion

By relying on data to evaluate candidates, employers can identify and address any biases existing in their hiring practices. For example, lets say data shows that certain groups of candidates are consistently being overlooked or underrepresented. Employers can take steps to adjust their hiring processes to improve diversity and inclusion. Data can also help employers identify areas where they need to improve their outreach and recruitment efforts to attract more diverse candidates.

Improved Performance

Data-driven hiring practices can also help employers make better hiring decisions that result in improved performance and productivity. By using data to identify the skills, experiences, and qualities that are most important for a particular role, employers can more effectively screen and evaluate candidates to ensure that they have the necessary qualifications. This can result in better hires who are more likely to excel in their roles and success of the organization.

Conclusion

Unconscious bias can affect recruitment processes and impede an organization’s efforts to promote workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, there are ways to mitigate its impact. By addressing the root cause of the problem and being open-minded about where they source their competencies, businesses can employ a wider range of people and benefit from the diversity of thought. Promoting “blind hiring,” using a standardized approach to assess candidate competencies, diversifying the recruitment panel, and making objective evaluations are also effective ways to remove unconscious bias. Organizations must be aware of the various forms of bias, and take steps to ensure that all candidates are evaluated based on their skills and experience, rather than their gender, race, or ethnicity. By doing so, they can build a more diverse and inclusive workforce that better reflects the society they operate in, ultimately leading to increased innovation and productivity.

Further Reading

How does AI help HR?
Working Remotely and Productivity: Interesting Insights
Introverted Employees: How to Manage Them

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About author
Fatjona Gërguri is the content writer for Employee Experience Magazine, covering the relevant topics about employee experience, organizational culture and general HR topics.
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