The Dangers Of Unconscious Bias In The Hiring Process

The Dangers Of Unconscious Bias In The Hiring Process

In order to grow a business, one of the key factors is hiring for diversity. Hiring candidates from different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, genders, skills, and experience levels ensures that everyone brings something valuable and unique to the table. Blending alternatives points of view helps companies innovate and grow. Unfortunately, recruiters may unintentionally leave out some candidates from consideration due to unconscious bias during the sourcing and interviewing stage, cutting away prospective talent that could do wonders for your company. But how can you address something you aren’t aware is happening in the moment? 

What is unconscious bias and what kind of effect does it have on an organization? 

According to Vanderbilt University, unconscious bias is defined as, “as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair.” In recruitment, this means people are left out of consideration for hiring, even if they meet the general requirements for employment. Unconscious biases can be a symptom of an industry or society, in which the norms do not vary much. In an employment context, this sometimes happens because recruiters form certain ideas about certain types of candidates, or they tend to hire the same types of candidates repeatedly. For example, the tech industry has been criticized for years for focusing on hiring men for a majority of jobs. This is due to the belief that men are better at math and science than women. One study by a team of researchers from Columbia University, Northwestern University, and University of Chicago found that, ”Men were twice as likely to be “hired” for a mathematical task [job], even when women showed superior math acumen.” 

This implicit bias has some obvious effects on businesses that don’t take steps to prevent it. For one, it discourages diverse candidates and women from applying for jobs they are qualified for because they know they will be rejected. Secondly, the company suffers from a lack of wide enough network of skills and perspectives, leaving gaps in teams. Opportunities are lost for more creative and innovative thinking because of a lack of diversity. Organizations that lack diversity will eventually find themselves the subject of discrimination claims and lawsuits. The EEOC, Civil Rights Act, Age Discrimination Act, and more are laws that candidates are aware of and can issue complaints to about any company that does not hire them based on a protected classification. 

Read more: Create an inclusive culture with these tips

How can unintentional bias be eliminated in the hiring process? 

It’s critical to establish a system for eliminating hiring bias because it is, after all, often unconscious. Recruiters might not even be aware they’re falling prey to a certain type of bias so having a strategy in place helps make hidden biases more visible. Addressing unconscious bias also helps protect the company from unwanted violations and provides a workplace that embraces everyone’s strengths. Some steps that any company can take to prevent and eliminate unintentional bias may include:

#1 – Creating job descriptions and posting advertisements that promote diversity

Your current job descriptions may be excluding certain candidates from even applying for a job with your company based upon the language or tone used. Make sure to re-write your job descriptions based on performance goals for each job. Never use language that implies a certain type of candidate is desired for the position — such as gender for example. The same goes for job advertisements. Keep the wordage brief and unbiased. 

#2 – Providing the same, consistent recruitment experience for all candidates 

One problem that can happen in the recruitment and hiring phase is when candidates are not treated to the same, fair experience. It is impossible to compare apples to oranges when things are inconsistent. Make sure all candidates receive the same application, screening, interview process, and consideration for the job. Part of this comes from using a structured interview approach instead of “winging it”  which can lead to quick judgments or skewed perceptions. 

#3 – Hiring from multiple sources to give all candidates an opportunity 

Sometimes bias happens because candidates struggle to find the job advertisement or they cannot access it. There may be barriers for a candidate as well such as trying to get into a company that only hires via employee referrals (and employees tend to refer others like themselves). Make sure you are hiring from multiple sources to give a wider group of candidates a chance to apply.

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#4 – Using Artificial Intelligence enabled systems for screening and sorting candidates

It has been suggested that in order to prevent bias in recruitment, the human element must be eliminated. Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms can support this goal by screening and sorting all candidates in a methodical way based on facts and not opinions. The jury is still out on whether this tech is effective right now but it will definitely play a role in the future of recruitment. 

#5 – Conducting more panel or group interviews 

One way to stop hiring bias is to conduct panel interviews, with diverse interviewers representing the panel. This allows for each member of the panel to gain an impression and decide if the candidate should move forward in the hiring process. Word to the wise – do not compare notes as it can influence your decision. 

#6 – Examine your culture and see if it’s diversity-friendly 

Each one of us should take the time to become self-aware of our own biases, whether they are evident or not. Are they linked to the culture of the industry or the company itself? Recruiters and hiring managers need to be mindful and check to see what types of people they have been hiring. Diversity training might also be of company-wide benefit to pave the way for a more inclusive culture. 

Monitoring unconscious recruitment bias for the future 

Once many of the factors for unconscious bias are dealt with and eliminated, recruiters must continue to monitor their own practices and actions.  Being well-educated on the subject helps too, including reading books and listening to podcasts about those underrepresented in the workplace. This ongoing effort can break the chain of unintentional recruitment bias and ensure that your company is hiring from a more diverse pool of candidates and retaining them. 


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