Practical Methods to Reduce Bias in Your Organization’s Hiring Process

Hiring the right people for the right jobs is one of the primary challenges of a recruitment officer. They need to be able to sift through applicants and differentiate good candidates from the bad ones.

However, recruiters are still human. Even the most tenured recruitment officer can make mistakes.

One oversight that recruiters tend to commit is allowing their biases to affect the hiring process.

Biased decision-making can potentially cause a company to suffer losses such as time, money, and other resources that might be spent on training a bad hire. It can also rob the organization of the chance to work with a potentially great employee.

Having biased views is normal, but they’re not usually evident to the people who have them. Unconscious biases can be formed early in a person’s life and may be strengthened by culture, social environment, and personal experiences.

What Is an Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious biases are prejudices that are formed implicitly or without the active influence of the person who has them. They are tendencies to immediately attribute positive or negative qualities to people based on predetermined opinions about their innate characteristics.

Unconscious biases are tough to identify and to control on the fly. This is especially true for recruitment specialists who tend to experience bias as they interview candidates. However, there are ways to prepare for unconscious biases and to manage them accordingly.

How to Deal with Unconscious Biases

Here are some practical steps that you can take to prevent unconscious biases from influencing your hiring process:

1. Examine Your Bias

One step in handling biases, particularly during interviews, is checking where these biases are coming from.  According to Shavon Lindley, the Founder and CEO of Mentoring Method (now branded as Ion Learning), when experiencing a bias, it helps to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does the applicant remind you of yourself?
  • Do they remind you of someone else?
  • What are the things that influence your impression on them?
  • Do you already have assessments about them?

These questions will help you determine whether your judgment is based on real information about the candidate or on an unconscious bias towards them.

These questions may also help you become more generally aware of the personal biases you may have against people. This, in turn, will enable you to deal with those biases so they don’t interfere with your future decisions and assessments.

Feel free to ask yourself other questions that you think are necessary. The important thing is to understand your biases better so you can address them more effectively.

You can also use this method in other processes outside of the interview stage.

2. Disregard Stereotypes

Stereotyping refers to a sweeping generalization about certain categories (such as ethnicity, age, gender, etc.) of people.  A stereotype is a preconceived notion that assumes that all members of a category exhibit or possess a particular attribute or quality.

Racial stereotypes are the most common: White Americans are lazy, African Americans are likely to be violent, Mexicans are in the country illegally, Asians do not speak English well, and so on.

Stereotyping based on gender or sexuality is also frequent: men are better leaders, women are emotional, members of the LGBT community are ill-behaved, and the like.

People might also be stereotyped based on which school they graduated from or which neighborhood they grew up in.

Whatever the case may be, stereotyping should be avoided at all costs in order to prevent mishandling candidates.

Always keep in mind that stereotypes do not necessarily bear truth. They are just oversimplified but often unsubstantiated hypotheses that are defined by society. A person can come from a notorious neighborhood but still be a good person; a person from a disreputable school may turn out to be very competent.

3. Work with Facts, Not Assumptions

The main problem with biases is that they often shroud actual reality with perceived reality.

Unconscious biases drive us toward a generalized conclusion about what a person is like or how someone might act. Our personal bias for or against a particular kind of individual gives us a certain set of unfounded expectations.

No matter how good or bad we think someone might be, one thing’s for sure: facts are all that matter.

As a recruiter, you should only focus on the real information you obtain about the applicants you are screening. Always check if your judgment is hinged on a fact or on a personal assumption.

This is a bit akin to idea of “what you see is what you get”—just get what you actually see.  You need to go through the hiring process with this mindset so you can evaluate candidates as objectively as possible.

4. Undergo Unconscious Bias Training

Unconscious biases have reached such a degree of significance that many businesses have become aware of them and have taken necessary actions to address them.

At present, several companies are already seeking help from consultants who offer training programs on identifying and dealing with unconscious biases.

These professionals also help companies diminish racism, sexism, and discrimination in the workplace.

There are now several unconscious bias training courses and workshops that you can choose from. Backed by years of research, these programs offer proven techniques specifically designed to help combat personal and organizational biases.

Consider taking a professionally designed course if you find that unconscious biases are affecting your work or impacting your company.

Other Effects of Unconscious Biases

The effects of unconscious biases are not exclusive to the hiring process.

Those in management who let unconscious biases cloud their judgment may end up mishandling employees. This is especially risky for new or first-time managers, as their relative inexperience may cause them to manifest favoritism.

Unconscious bias may lead to the formation of a toxic work culture, especially if people are stereotyped and begin to get treated unfairly.

Employee promotions can also be directly affected by biases. Deserving employees may be deprived of opportunities just because of a manager’s bias against them. Likewise, if there’s bias in their favor, opportunities might be awarded to unfit personnel.

Biases can be very detrimental not just to an employee’s career development and morale, but also to the company’s overall health and progress. Continued biased treatment can break your employees’ trust in your organization, which may destabilize your workforce.

The negative effects of unconscious biases further reinforce the need for company officers to have proper training or, at the very least, a deeper awareness of the subject in order to prevent discrimination and inequality from taking over the workplace.

Being a Bias-Free Company

The elimination of unconscious bias in recruitment and even in management is a priority that all organizations should focus on in order to create a more accommodating work environment. It would be worthwhile for human resource specialists and company leaders to undergo bias management training.

Giving applicants unbiased evaluations opens more opportunities for employers to find outstanding workforce additions who may eventually help drive business growth. Being fair and inclusive would also help companies build a more reputable image, which would aid in attracting future applicants.

And if its leaders can treat all of its personnel without prejudice, organizations would be able to enjoy the benefits of increased employee morale and employee retention.