Tackling Unconscious Bias in the Recruitment Process

Creating a diverse workplace should be top-of-mind for businesses of all sizes – and diversity should not be limited to race and gender. A diverse workplace includes employees with distinctive thoughts and backgrounds, differing approaches to creativity, and contrasting views of the world.

Diverse workforces not only meld highly talented people, but they also create successful, creative, profitable companies. Building a diverse workforce, however, isn’t as easy as you may think. Unconscious bias—or, implicit bias—is a bias that occurs when a person’s brain makes quick, snap judgments based on a person’s background and experiences. The person often doesn’t even know he or she is making such quick, biased decisions.

When and where does unconscious bias sneak into the recruitment process? And how can employers combat it?


Poorly written job descriptions

Let’s start at the beginning of your recruiting process—the job description. You may not realize it, but your job description can discourage potential job applicants with its wording. You may be using restrictive words that are subtly coded to a certain demographic.

For example, if you are looking for an “aggressive” or “rock star” salesperson, you’re probably going to discourage women from applying for that role. Not only are these male-oriented words, but you are also conveying a tone about your company’s culture. You could turn off some highly-qualified male applicants as well that don’t want to be associated with such a hard-hitting culture.

On the other hand, if words such as “collaborative,” “cooperative,” and “friendly,” often draw in female and millennial applicants. When you draft your job descriptions, aim for neutral words—words that will appeal to a wider demographic.


Filtering candidates

Be careful when you’re filtering candidates – this is often where unconscious bias takes control. When flicking through resumes, quick judgments about candidates can be made from looking at an applicant’s name or where an applicant attended school – but it’s important to review this process and think about whether it might be biased.

If you’re sifting through hundreds (or thousands) of resumes (or you have an automatic system doing it for you), it can be difficult—if not impossible—to give each resume it’s due turn. By filtering candidates based on “big name” universities, grade point averages, or work history, however, employers are ignoring the only thing that matters – what the candidate actually brings to the table.

A recent study shows that if you screen by highly selective universities, the opportunity for placement of underrepresented minorities is reduced by 23 percent. If you filter for grit, teamwork, and curiosity, however, almost there’s almost no difference in opportunity between white and minority applicants.

Get behind the words on the resume. Do you have a candidate who raised kids and went to a state college? He has grit and creativity. Do you have a candidate who served in the military? She has determination and focus. Do you have a candidate who coached youth soccer? That candidate knows something about teamwork, patience, and creativity.

Having gritty, curious employees who work as a team? Now you’re onto something.


Unstructured interviews

When you conduct informal interviews, you’ll confront unintended bias. Without sticking to a set of defined questions that are asked to each candidate, bias will creep into the interview process.

Employers should structure interviews so that questions are consistent among all candidates. That way, the candidate’s background, and experience will naturally unfold during the process. Additionally, interviewers should complete a follow-up process for each candidate, completing a scorecard or other feedback tool, so that the employer can assess each candidate’s performance equally.

Include your non-human resources employees in the hiring process as well. Let your employees show the candidate around the office. Let them introduce them to the company’s culture. Have them take the candidate to lunch. Make sure you get feedback from your employees. Have them report back—formally—to the hiring team.

Additionally, ask for feedback from your candidates. By exploring how candidates experienced the interview process, companies can gain feedback on not only the questions asked but the experience itself. Getting feedback from outside of your organization is helpful all around.

By giving a different experience to each candidate, you’re also leaving room for inherent bias to take over.


Best practices moving forward

So, what are some best practices moving forward to combat inherent bias in your recruiting practices?

  • Host internal training about unconscious bias, what it is, and how it can be spotted. Workshops, online training, or seminars are great ways to educate your hiring team on this type of bias.
  • Involve a diverse group of people in the recruiting process. Allow diverse employees to help with not only the interviewing phase, but also to help identify the needs of the organization and set the diversity goals.
  • Introduce technology that looks beyond sex, gender, schools, and previous jobs in your recruiting process. Technology can cut through inherent bias and identify skill sets from passive candidates to fill needed roles within your company.

Understanding what unconscious bias is and being aware that it can easily slip into our decision-making processes reveals its impact on recruiting and hiring practices. To create a diverse workforce, it’s vital to address more than just apparent bias. By naming these biases for what they are and identifying where they may show up, companies can address these sneaky biases head-on.

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