How to remove unconscious bias in recruitment and selection

According to BrightTalk, 79% of HR professionals agree that unconscious bias exists in recruitment and selection.

Of course, that’s not to suggest that unconscious bias is a problem that’s unique to recruitment. But when operating in an industry where people are judged against each other in order to find the best person, you can see why unconscious bias in hiring can cause problems.

Despite all the talk around unconscious bias, it’s easy to think there’s a simple solution: stop it. Simply stop being biased. The problem is, it’s not that easy. Not because we’re all actively biased, but because our brains make decisions intuitively, without us even knowing (where the ‘unconscious’ part comes from). And that affects our judgement and decision-making.

So how do we push back against bias?

By continuously being aware of the prevalence of unconscious bias in recruitment and the negative impact it has, you can recognise why diversity in the workplace is important. This will enable you to build in strategies that will remove unconscious bias from your hiring practices.

In this article, we’ll answer these questions:

~ What is unconscious bias?

~ What does unconscious bias in recruitment look like?

~ Why is diversity in the workplace important?

~ What can you do to remove unconscious bias in recruitment and selection?

What is unconscious bias?

When we talk about unconscious bias, we’re referring to the negative or positive attitudes about an individual or group of people that influence your understanding, actions, and choices unconsciously. 

Examples of unconscious biases are gender bias, confirmation bias (when we make decisions or draw conclusions about people or situations that are based on our own experiences, beliefs or preconceptions), and perception bias (when we treat individuals based on simplistic, often incorrect stereotypes and general assumptions, as opposed to reality).

These types of unconscious biases can often result in talented people being overlooked in the recruitment process, which dilutes the quality of the talent pool. What you end up with is a hiring process that, rather than evaluating people on their skills, experience, or ability, does so on their likeable characteristics – criteria that are largely irrelevant to the job.

What does unconscious bias in recruitment look like?

Unconscious bias in recruitment can affect candidates before they even make it to an interview. Decisions on whether or not to shortlist are often made from a snapshot look at a candidate’s CV or LinkedIn profile. Their name, background, education, and even something more arbitrary like whether or not they seem like the sort of person that would be a good fit, can factor in decision-making.

Again, these unconscious biases are irrelevant criteria for the job but they could be the difference between a candidate being submitted or overlooked. There are also instances where bias is more conscious than it might appear. For example, deciding to submit a candidate on the basis of them being a culture fit is a generally accepted form of bias that’s conscious more often than not.

There isn’t just anecdotal evidence of this taking place. Research from Nuffield College’s Centre for Social Investigation (CSI) confirms that British citizens from ethnic minority or black backgrounds sent 60% more CVs on average to get positive feedback from employers, compared to their white counterparts who had the same skillset, experience, and qualifications.

Whether positively or negatively, unconscious bias influences our decision-making,  using criteria irrelevant to the job. That in turn dilutes the quality of the talent pool and the workforce. Unconscious bias in recruitment results in less diverse teams. And less diversity hinders your clients’ productivity.

Why is diversity in the workplace important?

The benefits of diversity in the workplace extend to all areas of the business. 

A CIPD study shows that diverse teams see a 60% increase in their ability to make decisions. More diversity is also shown to have a positive impact on innovation. A team from a broad spectrum of backgrounds will contribute unique perspectives that can lead to breakthroughs in thought. A study by the Financial Management Association showed that companies that score well on indicators of diversity are demonstrably more innovative.

Companies that actively seek diversity in candidates will also have access to a wider talent pool. And from the candidate’s perspective, diverse companies are a more attractive proposition. A Glassdoor study found that 76% of employees and candidates consider a diverse workforce as an important factor when making decisions about companies and job offers.

And the bottom line is, more diversity is shown to have a positive impact on a company’s finances. Diverse teams tend to perform better and bring in more profits. This is shown by a McKinsey report, which found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.

So it’s clear, the case for the importance of diversity in the workplace is already made.

What can you do to remove unconscious bias in recruitment and selection?

By removing unconscious bias in recruitment, you’re simultaneously providing your clients with the aforementioned benefits. But where do you begin?

Diversify your talent sources

Unconscious bias in hiring doesn’t begin when you’re shortlisting candidates. It starts with where you look for talent.

By evaluating your talent sources, you can identify where you can broaden your search. This is especially important when combating talent shortages and skills gaps, as it’ll enable you to draw from a wider and deeper pool of talent.

Remove gendered wording

Research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that women are much less likely to apply to jobs where ads or descriptions include ‘masculine-coded’ language such as ‘active’, ‘confident’ and ‘driven’.

The research also showed the effect of feminine-coded words like ‘interpersonal, ‘honest’ and ‘support’ on male applicants was minimal. By removing gendered wording from your ads and job descriptions, you can ensure the jobs you’re hiring for are attractive to the broadest pool possible.

Use accessible technology

The same methods of engaging with your talent aren’t accessible to everyone. And they may not be preferable to everyone either. So think about how you can adapt your approach to removing barriers for candidates.

Technologies like OLAS and CloudCall are making it easier for you to diversify your communication streams. And there are numerous solutions like Hinterview that enable you to present candidates in ways that better showcase their skills.

Make data-driven decisions

Artificial intelligence is playing a huge role in reducing unconscious bias in hiring. It does this by removing the fallible human element and only assessing skills relevant to the role. 

PitchMe’s solution, for example, draws data from over 40 digital sources to create a multi-layered view of a candidate’s skills. Any other data is ignored. In 45% of cases, the hire made via PitchMe contributed to the diversity of the company’s talent pool.

To find out more, book a demo with us.

The bottom line

By being aware of the existence of unconscious bias in recruitment and how it manifests, we’re able to take steps to remove it. The above list is non-exhaustive, but it does lay the foundations for a strategy that will combat this issue today and into the future.