Unconscious Bias In Hiring: How To Reduce Bias In The Hiring Process

Companies must actively rethink every step of the hiring funnel to remove potential biases and make adjustments as required. Here is how they can:

Unconscious Bias In Hiring: How To Reduce Bias In The Hiring Process
How To Reduce Bias In The Hiring Process

In the past few years, the talk around diversity and inclusion in the workplace has gained much precedence — and for a good reason. Today's typical organization operates as a network of globally distributed teams and thrives on open dialogue and inclusive working styles.

Diversity is viewed as a comprehensive strategy for enhancing employee engagement, driving higher performance, and boosting overall brand value. Unfortunately, people of color still face vast disparities — especially when it comes to hiring.

You see — the mind takes decisions intuitively — even before we are aware of it. While we like to think that logical arguments drive our decision-making, an unconscious activity inside our mind affects our judgments. And this also happens during hiring decisions.

What is unconscious bias in hiring?

It occurs when a recruiter forms an impression of a candidate simply by screening them (e.g., screening their LinkedIn profile, scanning a resume, or reading a cover letter) before the interview process has even started.

Typically, this impression is based on an intuitive action of the mind — driven by criteria not necessarily relevant to the job requirements, such as how their name sounds, their ethnicity, or where they are from.

Such types of unconscious bias arise from the recruiters' personal experiences and what they think they know about people (i.e., stereotyping). For instance, at times, they might prefer candidates that seem more likely to blend in with the team socially.

Whether the bias is unconscious or conscious, it negatively impacts the workplace environment. It shows the business in a poor light.

According to a Deloitte report, 84% of employees believe the said bias hampers their happiness and confidence at work, with 68% witnessing a decrease in overall productivity. That is why you need to put an end to all types of unconscious bias.

3 benefits of reducing an implicit bias in hiring

Unconscious bias should be combated at the initial talent screening and interview stages.

1. Diverse teams are smarter and more innovative. Nearly half of the revenue of organizations with more diverse groups comes from innovation.

2. Diverse organizations tend to perform better as they are more likely to have financial returns above the industry mean.

3. Diversity makes recruiting easier as 66.67% of job seekers use diversity to evaluate companies and job offers. Moreover, millennials value workplace diversity strongly.

8 ways to implement diversity hiring practices in your workplace

To have a genuinely unbiased recruitment process is challenging but not impossible. Companies need to actively rethink every step of the hiring funnel to remove potential biases and make adjustments as required.

Some of this can be achieved through technology, and others demand more innovative selection methods. Here is how to reduce bias in hiring process:

1. Remove biased language from job descriptions

Job descriptions play an essential role in recruiting and often provide a sneak peek into the company's culture. The use of even the most subtle words in the copy can have a substantial impact on the application pool.

For example, female candidates are less likely to apply to jobs whose description comprises masculine words such as "competitive," "active," or "determined." Such words compel them to believe they do not belong in the work environment.

Alternatively, words like "collaborative" and "cooperative" tend to draw more applications from women than men. But male candidates would not apply to jobs with "feminine" job descriptions like "honest" or "interpersonal."

You can either remove such words and replace them with something more neutral or aim to execute a balance by using the same number of gendered descriptors or verbs to reduce racial bias in hiring.

In addition, there are tools such as Textio and Gender Decoder, which identify gender-biased language on job postings. All you have to do is upload your job description and receive suggestions on optimizing the copy.

2. Tap new sources for recruiting talent

Great sourcing happens on social media, through Boolean searches, job boards, and even traditional methods such as campus recruiting and referrals through past and current employees.

For example, as part of its international diversity program, Google partners with HBCUs to give black students sponsorships, internships, and other training programs.

Alternatively, community outreach can give organizations access to women, ethnic or racial groups, veterans, or people with disabilities at the grassroots level. You can conduct a CSR program or execute mentorship programs to connect with the community.

Sponsor certain groups, whether in support of a particular event or as a general sponsor, are instrumental in opening the door to many speaking opportunities, marketing, and other types of outreach to diverse groups.

When you stick to a few select sourcing options, your applicant choices will get stale. That is why it is best to widen the lens through which you seek talent.

3. Restructure your employee referral system

Referrals are a popular source of recruitment that helps the talent acquisition team hire candidates within the employees' networks. A referral program speeds up the sourcing process and minimizes cost-per-hire.

Research shows that 74% of employers use this strategy to infuse new blood into the company. More importantly, referrals perform better and retain longer, but they are highly susceptible to unconscious bias because they tend to be of a similar demographic to the referrer.

As per a PayScale report, female and minority background applicants are less likely to receive a referral than their white male counterparts. Therefore, diversify when you source your referrals.

Consider paying more for applicants who are currently underrepresented in your workforce. Intel spends twice as much for diverse referrals. Pinterest also encourages unrepresented employees to refer new candidates to the company.

4. Introduce blind applications to promote equitable hiring practices

This is a step many companies have started to take to reduce implicit bias in hiring. Blind applications involve removing all personal details such as contact information, photographs, and anything that might form a stereotypical thought in the minds of the recruiter when assessing a resume.

Research shows that applicants with foreign-sounding names are 28% more unlikely to get a callback. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) experimented with blind hiring, replacing names with numbers or resumes. Because of this, they ended up inviting more diverse candidates to their interviews.

Blind resumes allow the recruiter to decide whether the applicant is skilled or experienced enough to qualify for the next round of the hiring process — without forming any biases on their race or gender.

Another way to eliminate implicit bias in hiring entirely is by removing resumes from the application process. Skill assessment tests each candidate's suitability for the role by objectively measuring the job-relevance aptitude.

Therefore, create custom tests mimicking the challenges of the job itself for potential employees. Hire based on how well they perform in the test — regardless of what their resume says. This brings us to the next point.

5. Deploy skills assessments to fight bias

Pre-employment assessments create fairer evaluations of candidates and reduce the effects of unconscious bias. They can help the recruiters to critique the candidates on job-relevant criteria rather than judging them based on gender, age, appearance, and even personality.

They have more control over the input and can thus be sure that the results are reliable too. Use Adaface to identify highly skilled and talented individuals who may otherwise have been overlooked due to the lack of an educational certificate or some racial factor.

You can conduct job-specific tests, aptitude tests, and psychometric tests to hire candidates with the best job skills, cognitive abilities, and personality traits. Adaface enables companies to create bespoke assessments to make the right hire in the shortest possible time.

6. Do not give a salary range

Salaries are an excellent motivator for a job change. In fact, 2/3rd of job seekers wanted to see the salary range listed in job descriptions. However, being transparent about it can increase bias during salary negotiations.

That is because women and minorities are more likely to fall victim to gender bias in hiring, creating pay inequity. Therefore, salaries should be determined based on the current job position, the skills and experience required, and the candidates' expectations.

Moreover, not asking for salary history helps women, people of color, and people with disabilities close the salary gap. No wonder several states in the US have made it unlawful to ask about a candidate's salary history.

7. Combine structured and unstructured interviews

An implicit bias in hiring can also occur during interviews, and you can reduce it by being more intentional about the questions you ask. For instance, while structured questions are asked to every candidate, unstructured questions feel more personal to the individual.

If an interview is too structured, it hampers the candidate's experience. If it is too unstructured, unconscious bias can creep in, which causes the interview to hire those who are comfortable spending time with.

A balanced mix of the two can best help determine each candidate's suitability for the job and decrease unconscious bias in interviewing.

Moreover, have more stakeholders from varied backgrounds interview the candidate. That way, you will get a variety of opinions about the person.

If the majority gives positive feedback, hire that candidate. In fact, Intel puts together diversity panels to reduce unconscious bias. Each hiring committee is required to have two women and underrepresented minorities. By doing so, they were able to improve diversity by 15% in just two years.

Similarly, to increase the number of women to reach the top-of-funnel, Airbnb tweaked their interview process and began requiring select women employees to be a part of half of the interview panel for female candidates.

The steps helped Airbnb to considerably reduce gender bias in hiring. They increased the number of female data scientists on the team from 15% to 30%.

Apple also takes racial bias in hiring seriously. In 2020, they hired 64% more employees from minority backgrounds and filled 43% of open leadership positions in the US with underrepresented candidates, thereby decreasing unconscious bias in interviewing.

8. Train your HR personnel

Unconscious bias training is aimed at helping HR employees identify and understand biases we all harbor. The deeper intent is to hire without any discrimination and not act on any biases when they arise. Companies typically deploy this form of training to:

  • Increase diversity and inclusion
  • Reduce racism in the workplace
  • Reduce discriminatory actions and behaviors

Although evidence has shown that such training is ineffective at leading to long-lasting behavioral change, it effectively raises awareness of bias. And if you bring even an iota of change in the thinking of your HR team, you can expect to have a diverse workforce.

There is no standard format for unconscious bias training. You could incorporate workshops in small groups that can last for days or run a series of narrated PowerPoint slides for a large audience on select days across the year.

Harvard Business School once led a rigorous trial for its students to educate them about sexist stereotypes and their consequences — and surveys suggest that it did change some attitudes. There was a greater acknowledgment of their own bias after the workshop.

That is why despite the limiting nature of the training, it is suggested that businesses incorporate them in their regular operations.

Besides, they should take concrete steps to reduce the actual behaviors that are problematic in the workplace. It is necessary to review and update policies potentially resulting in any racial or gender bias in hiring.

The bottom line: Reducing unconscious bias is good for business

Reducing any types of unconscious bias in the workplace is essential. Your business attracts higher-quality job candidates who, when hired, improve the overall productivity and uplift the company culture. That is because you put every employee on a level plane.

A diverse and inclusive work environment also leads to a higher retention rate, saving your business a lot of money in the long run. Therefore, if your traditional hiring processes need to be proactively revamped, you must.

Reducing unconscious bias and promoting equitable hiring practices require commitment from everyone in your organization. However, with changes in company policies, recruitment processes, and frequent workshops, you can enable a diverse environment.

Rely on data to remove most emotions or thoughts that can taint a job candidate's vetting process. Get objective insight into the applicants with pre-employment assessments and make rightful hires accordingly.