unconscious bias

8 ways to reduce unconscious bias in hiring

unconscious bias

In these competitive times, organisations strive to stay ahead by building a talented workforce. The recruiters seek to approach passive candidates and onboard the best employees. However, their efforts are often mired by unconscious bias in hiring. If left unchecked, this unconscious bias can paralyse all recruitment efforts. 

There is a lot of talk around workplace diversity in today’s world. And for good reasons. Firstly, a heterogeneous workforce can add to the skills and capabilities of an organisation. Secondly, it can enhance the employer branding of a company. As diverse candidates apply to open positions, the talent pool widens. That, in turn, allows hiring the best of the best. Lastly, diversity boosts innovation and revenue.

However, all the efforts of recruiting a diverse workforce can get wasted due to unconscious bias. 

What is unconscious bias in hiring?

It refers to the judgements that are automatically made when meeting a candidate. One can say that it is the outcome of first impressions and gut feelings. 

More often than not, it is the result of one’s past associations, beliefs, experiences and culture. This bias comes so naturally that people may not even realise what they are doing. For instance, hiring managers often hire a person who they think will be a good fit in their team outings. However, such decisions can lead to grave imbalances in the hiring process. 

This bias in hiring can be two types – negative and positive. In the latter form, the mind forms positive associations. For instance, the hiring manager may prefer to hire from a particular university. However, all the graduates from there may not be equally talented. On the other hand, a negative bias is when the mind dislikes something on the resume. A classic example is not hiring women in certain functions or positions. 

Checking and preventing this bias in hiring is crucial for three reasons. Firstly, to give an equal chance to everyone. Secondly, to be fair and inclusive while evaluating a candidate. Lastly, and most importantly, to stop workplace discrimination.  

How to reduce unconscious bias in hiring?

At times, organisations need to take a step back and relook at the current state of things. Here are 8 ways to remove unconscious bias in hiring.

1. Have conversations around bias in hiring

As the name suggests, people are not aware that they are a party to unconscious bias. To start, organisations need to start having discussions around it. Creating awareness programs and educating the employees about hiring bias is one way of doing this. 

More often than not, people responsible for hiring do not know what biases are. They are not aware of the fact that they are creating irregularities in hiring due to their preferences. Unless there is a conversation, there is no way to contain it. 

One cannot deny the value of first impressions during interviews. However, it is crucial to differentiate it from preconceived biases. The hiring managers need to take chances beyond these first impressions. For instance, an introvert who takes time to connect may be excellent at the job. 

Of course, it will take significant time and effort for people to separate facts from emotions. Talking about it is the first step that companies can take.

2. Mandate structured interviews

Unstructured interviews can often go in undesirable directions. Moreover, they lead to inconsistent interviews. The interviewers may not give a fair and equal chance to everyone. 

To remove bias in hiring, it is necessary to have a standard interview process. The recruiters can design a set of questions for evaluating the candidates. Of course, the interviewers can build up on the answers to probe.

It is also essential to educate the interviewers to focus on KPIs while assessing the candidates. This step can minimise their biases from the process. 

The recruiters can also work on a scorecard to log the performance of the candidates. A scorecard can be immensely useful in removing bias in hiring. As the interviewers score the candidates on various parameters, it will bring in more objectivity. Also, it can help in comparing the performances of multiple candidates and making better decisions.

3. Adopt collaborative hiring

Leaving the decision to hire employees on one person can cripple the hiring process. To recruit people from all walks of life, embrace a collaborative approach. Diversity will breed diversity.

When there are several people involved, the hiring outcome will be more diverse. Inter-departmental interviews can also help in hiring culturally-fit candidates.

However, it is advisable to not over-complicate the interview process. Having too many rounds may put off the candidates. 

4. Relook at the job descriptions

Words have equal power to destroy as they have to build relationships. Most people in the corporate world choose their words and language carefully. Apart from avoiding any confusions, it saves them from unpleasant situations. 

The words in the job descriptions can convey a lot about how an organisation values diversity. Are the recruiters unwittingly mentioning age or gender in the job descriptions? If yes, they could be putting off more candidates than they can imagine. 

It is advisable to make the JDs as inclusive as possible. Proof-read them for any mention of age or stereotypical words that imply a specific gender. For instance, women may not like words such as ‘competitive’ or ‘salesman’. Replacing them with ‘collaborative’ and ‘salesperson’ will make a greater impact.

5. Remove bias from the shortlisting process

One cannot remove bias in hiring if the shortlisting process allows demographic differences. The best way to do this is by blinding the personal information of the candidates. It may be tough to implement if the recruiters scan the resumes manually.

Automating the shortlisting process is a foolproof way of achieving this. When software evaluates candidates, it focuses more on the relevant skills. 

Impress offers an effective solution to shortlist qualified candidates while removing bias in hiring. The chatbot uses preset questions to evaluate the candidates to the next round. It is based on the concepts of data intelligence and machine learning. Thus, it only scores the candidates on their skills and experience required for the job.

Moreover, Impress uses a system where it assigns unique numbers to identify the candidates instead of displaying the names. Hence, the chances of aligning with the biases of the recruiters are zilch. 

6. Use work samples and simulations

Interviews can never assess the true potential of candidates. A lot depends upon how the meeting goes. For instance, a qualified candidate could be having a bad day and may not answer well. 

Sample tests allow the interviewers to predict how the candidates will perform in their jobs. Moreover, these tests can bring objectivity into the hiring process and remove all biases. Additionally, hiring managers can compare candidates and make better decisions.

However, it is crucial to use only scientifically validated tests. Unvalidated tests can lead to more biases than the ones in the system. 

7. Make diversity an organisational priority

How can organisations ensure that they have removed bias in hiring? One can always go to the good old route of data cuts to assess the success of diversity initiatives. 

How can organisations align hiring managers and recruiters with the diversity goals? The best way is to give diversity targets. By doing this, one is consciously pushing the interviewers to meet people who do not belong to their preferred circle. They may be uncomfortable at first. However, meeting and talking to a diverse set of people may open them up to a new world of possibilities.

To make it more clear, organisations can give them targets to hire from minorities, women and people of varied age groups.

8. Widen the reach

Organizations need to assess if they are limiting their scope by advertising jobs at only a few places. When recruiters do not diversify ads, they may not be able to achieve diversity in their talent pool. For instance, hiring from universities that they haven’t visited in the past can allow them to meet better candidates.

Recruiters can also educate their managers to hire for transferable skills. It will enhance the overall capability of the organisation. In current times, technology changes quickly. Thus, it may help to hire for agility as opposed to specific skills. When the hiring managers do this, they also create an ecosystem where the candidates can apply for diverse roles. And we all know the benefits of hiring from within the system.

Most companies have similar irregularities in their hiring systems. As organisations think differently and take such steps, they could also enjoy the first-mover advantage.  

Can one truly remove unconscious bias from the organisation?

As the name suggests, hiring managers are not aware that they are biased in making hiring decisions. Giving them targets can get the ball rolling. However, there is no sure shot way to eradicate it from the system. It is important to start somewhere. Have constant conversations and educate the employees. When they acknowledge it, they will take steps to contain it.