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Overcoming Unconscious Bias in the Recruiting Process

In today's rapidly evolving world, embracing diversity has become not just an ethical imperative but also a strategic advantage for businesses. By fostering an inclusive work environment that celebrates differences and values diverse perspectives, organizations can unlock the full potential of their teams. However, unconscious bias can often seep into the recruiting process, inadvertently hindering efforts to build diverse and inclusive teams. Let's explore how businesses can identify and overcome unconscious bias to ensure a fair and equitable hiring process.


Understanding Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias refers to the attitudes and stereotypes we hold about certain groups of people without being consciously aware of them. These biases can inadvertently influence our decisions, including those related to hiring.

Common forms of unconscious bias in that can show up in recruiting include:

  • Affinity Bias: This bias occurs when individuals favor people who share similar characteristics, backgrounds, or interests. Affinity bias can lead to the preference of candidates who remind the interviewer of themselves or who come from the same alma mater or hometown.

  • Halo Effect: The halo effect refers to the tendency to form an overall positive impression of a person based on a single positive trait or characteristic. For example, if a candidate has an impressive educational background, interviewers may assume they excel in other areas as well, without thoroughly evaluating their qualifications.

  • Horns Effect: This is the opposite of the halo effect, where a single negative trait or characteristic influences overall judgment negatively. If a candidate lacks experience in a specific area, interviewers may unfairly view them as unsuitable for the entire role.

  • Confirmation Bias: Confirmation bias occurs when individuals seek out or give more weight to information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs or assumptions. In the context of recruitment, interviewers might focus on aspects that align with their biases, leading to a skewed assessment.

  • Stereotyping: Stereotyping involves making assumptions about individuals based on their membership in a particular group, such as race, gender, age, or religion. Stereotypes can influence perceptions of candidates and lead to biased decision-making.

  • Beauty Bias: This bias involves favoring candidates who are perceived as physically attractive. Research has shown that attractiveness can unintentionally influence hiring decisions.

  • Conformity Bias: Conformity bias occurs when interviewers are influenced by the opinions or evaluations of others in the decision-making process, leading to a lack of independent judgment.


Recognizing Unconscious Bias

The first step in combating unconscious bias is to recognize its existence. This requires a willingness to be introspective and open to feedback from others. Training hiring managers and recruitment teams on the different types of biases that can impact decision-making is crucial. By creating awareness, businesses can begin to challenge biased assumptions and develop a more inclusive mindset. So, how do you determine if unconscious bias is seeping into your hiring process?

  1. Analyze Demographic Data: Review the demographic data of candidates who applied, were shortlisted, and ultimately hired for various positions. Look for any significant disparities in representation across different groups, such as gender, ethnicity, or age. While this is not a definitive indicator of bias, it can be a red flag for potential discrepancies.

  2. Benchmark against Industry Standards: Compare your hiring outcomes to industry benchmarks and best practices in diversity and inclusion. Use this comparison to identify areas where your hiring process may need improvement.

  3. External Expertise: Consider seeking the assistance of external experts or consultants to conduct an unbiased audit of your hiring process. They can provide an objective perspective and suggest improvements.

It's important to recognize that we all have biases! Literally, every single one of us has biases! It isn't anything to be ashamed of, but it is something that we should all work to overcome. Its difficult to get away from our biases fully, but we can learn about them, understand them, and work against them. Doing so allows us to take a more discerning and open minded approach to many things in life, including the hiring process. But, if you find that unconscious bias is in the hiring process, how can you work to remove it?


Candidate Feedback Surveys: Conduct anonymous surveys to collect feedback from candidates about their interview experience. Inquire about their perceptions of fairness, inclusivity, and whether they felt treated equitably during the process. Analyze the responses to identify any recurring themes related to bias.


Calibration Sessions: Organize calibration sessions with the hiring team to ensure consistency in evaluations and to address any potential biases that might arise during discussions about candidates.


Exit Interviews: If possible, conduct exit interviews with candidates who were not selected for the position. Gather insights on their perceptions of the hiring process and whether they believe bias played a role in their selection.


Audit and Track Decisions: Regularly audit and track the hiring decisions made by the team. Analyze the reasons behind each decision and determine if there are patterns that suggest potential bias.


Design A Structured, Yet Inclusive Interview Processes

Implementing structured interviews helps standardize the process by asking all candidates the same set of relevant questions. This enables a more objective evaluation and comparison of candidates' qualifications, skills, and experiences. A structured, consistent hiring process can be a great way to ensure that all candidates have the same experience interviewing, but the best processes and practices leave space for candidates who may require accommodations for interviews. Creating an inclusive and accessible interview process is crucial to ensure that all candidates, including those with disabilities or specific needs, have an equal opportunity to showcase their qualifications and skills. Here are some additional steps to consider in the recruiting process to accommodate candidates:

  • Accessibility Awareness: Ensure that all members of the hiring team are aware of the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in the interview process. Work with an expert to ensure that interviews can accommodate different needs effectively.

  • Pre-Interview Communication: During the initial communication with candidates, inquire about any accommodations they might require for the interview. This proactive approach demonstrates the organization's commitment to creating an inclusive environment.

  • Flexibility in Interview Format: Be flexible in offering different interview formats. Some candidates may prefer remote interviews, while others might need in-person interviews with specific accessibility features.

  • Accessible Interview Locations: If conducting in-person interviews, choose locations that are easily accessible to candidates with disabilities. Ensure the venue has ramps, elevators, and other necessary accommodations.

  • Technology Accessibility: If using video conferencing tools for remote interviews, make sure the platform is accessible and compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers and subtitles.

  • Extended Interview Time: Provide candidates who require additional time due to specific needs the option of extended interview sessions to showcase their abilities fully.

  • Communicate Accommodations Clearly: Inform candidates about the available accommodations and the process for requesting them. Make it clear that requesting accommodations will not impact their candidacy.

  • Respect Candidate Privacy: Treat all information related to accommodations as confidential and use it solely for the purpose of facilitating a fair interview process.

  • Evaluate Job Skills and Competencies: Focus on evaluating the candidate's qualifications, skills, and job-related competencies rather than the disability or specific need.

  • Continuous Improvement: Regularly seek feedback from candidates on their interview experience, including the effectiveness of accommodations. Use this feedback to continually improve the accessibility of the hiring process.

Diverse Interview Panels

Including a diverse panel of interviewers can significantly reduce unconscious bias in the recruiting process. Having individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives assess candidates ensures a more balanced evaluation. This approach also sends a strong message to candidates about the organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

A yellow road sign reads: Watch Out Tokenization Ahead

Pitfall to avoid: if your organization only has a few women in leadership, it is not fair to require those women to be on every interview in order to have the appearance of diversity, unless their job is specifically related to hiring / talent acquisition. The same goes for team members who are BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and all other marginalized groups. If you have low representation for these individuals at the leadership level, start by hiring / promoting to increase diversity and representation at the top. Having a diverse and representative leadership team is the easiest and most authentic way to ensure diverse interview panels for potential candidates and to avoid overburdening historically marginalized individuals with extra, unpaid work.


Blind Resume Screening

Blind resume screening involves removing personally identifiable information (such as names, photos, and demographic details) from resumes during the initial stages of the hiring process. This practice helps prevent unconscious bias based on a candidate's name, gender, ethnicity, or other characteristics that are irrelevant to their qualifications. You can consider having your initial screening team, whether it is a 3rd party supplier or internal talent acquisition team, remove identifying information such as candidate names (replace with initials only) and location.


Establishing Necessary Job Criteria

Are you familiar with that statistic, 'men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them' and the conclusion that women just need to be more confident in their abilities? Data from a Hewlett Packard internal report finds that this discrepancy isn't necessarily due to a lack of confidence, but a mistaken perception about how the hiring process works. As HBR summarizes, the majority of men and women who chose not to apply for a job reported doing so because they "believed they needed the qualifications not to do the job well, but to be hired in the first place. They thought that the required qualifications were…well, required qualifications. They didn’t see the hiring process as one where advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications."

A series of graphs from HBR shows various reasons that men and women didn't apply for a job

If attracting a large, diverse pool of candidates is a goal in your hiring process, consider what skills and experience are truly required to get the job done, versus what is just 'nice to have'. If a job description includes a laundry list of required skills and experiences, companies will see their applicant pool shrink because job seekers will count themselves out before applying, even if they could do the job well and would be a good fit for the hiring organization.


Defining clear job criteria and reasonable, truly required qualifications is essential to ensure a broad and diverse candidate pool. Hiring managers and recruiters should collaborate to create detailed job descriptions that outline specific skills, experiences, and necessary qualifications required for the role. Adding a "preferred qualifications" or "nice to have" section can be a great way to provide additional information on the role without inadvertently dissuading qualified candidates from applying.


Offering Diversity Training

Offering regular diversity and inclusion training to all employees involved in the hiring process can be immensely beneficial. These workshops can deepen understanding of unconscious bias, raise awareness about its impact, and equip teams with strategies to make more inclusive hiring decisions.


Reach out to Level today to learn more about our Staffing Innovation training series!


Data-Driven Recruitment

Leveraging data analytics in the recruitment process can help identify patterns of bias and make evidence-based decisions. Regularly review recruitment data to assess diversity metrics and identify potential gaps in the hiring process.


By implementing structured interview processes, promoting diverse interview panels, and investing in training, businesses can create an environment where every candidate has an equal opportunity to shine. Ultimately, it is through these efforts that companies can attract top talent from all walks of life and foster a workplace that celebrates the richness of human diversity. Overcoming unconscious bias in the recruiting process is an ongoing journey that requires commitment, self-awareness, and proactive measures. Embracing diversity is not just about fulfilling quotas; it is about building a workforce that thrives on inclusivity and harnesses the power of diverse perspectives (results may include more engaged employees and teams, higher revenue and profit, higher levels of innovation, improved talent attraction and retention, and much much more).

An infographic about making the business case for diversity with facts related to performance, revenue, innovation, customer insights, and talent
  1. Analyze Demographic Data: Review the demographic data of candidates who applied, were shortlisted, and ultimately hired for various positions. Look for any significant disparities in representation across different groups, such as gender, ethnicity, or age. While this is not a definitive indicator of bias, it can be a red flag for potential discrepancies.

  2. Candidate Feedback Surveys: Conduct anonymous surveys to collect feedback from candidates about their interview experience. Inquire about their perceptions of fairness, inclusivity, and whether they felt treated equitably during the process. Analyze the responses to identify any recurring themes related to bias.

  3. Calibration Sessions: Organize calibration sessions with the hiring team to ensure consistency in evaluations and to address any potential biases that might arise during discussions about candidates.

  4. Exit Interviews: If possible, conduct exit interviews with candidates who were not selected for the position. Gather insights on their perceptions of the hiring process and whether they believe bias played a role in their selection.

  5. Diverse Interview Panels: Assess the diversity of your interview panels and consider whether a range of perspectives are represented. Diverse panels can help mitigate bias by bringing different viewpoints to the evaluation process.

  6. Audit and Track Decisions: Regularly audit and track the hiring decisions made by the team. Analyze the reasons behind each decision and determine if there are patterns that suggest potential bias.

  7. Benchmark against Industry Standards: Compare your hiring outcomes to industry benchmarks and best practices in diversity and inclusion. Use this comparison to identify areas where your hiring process may need improvement.

  8. External Expertise: Consider seeking the assistance of external experts or consultants to conduct an unbiased audit of your hiring process. They can provide an objective perspective and suggest improvements.

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