6 ways to manage unconscious bias in recruitment

18 October 2022 Sharyn Waterworth

Unconscious Bias In Recruitment: 6 Ways To Manage It

​We’d all like to believe we’re capable of making objective decisions but in reality, we’re usually driven by a force we’re totally unaware of. And that’s unconscious bias.

Unconscious biases happen when we form prejudices outside of our awareness. In fact, our unconscious bias might be totally at odds with our conscious values. These biases cause us to automatically associate certain behaviours or characteristics with groups of people. These assumptions are usually reinforced by our families or communities, which is why they can be difficult to shake.

Our biases can extend to any social group. This includes (but is certainly not limited to)

  • Race

  • Ethnicity

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Weight

  • Religion

  • Sexual orientation

An example of unconscious bias might be when a teacher only asks for male students to stack chairs in the classroom. The unconscious bias here is automatically stereotyping all the boys to be more physically capable than the girls.

These biases are universal and deeply ingrained within us. That’s why we don’t often realise we have them.

Can you see why this might be detrimental to the recruitment process?

From writing a job ad to interviews with candidates, our biases can creep in. Based on nothing more than a name or a photo, we unconsciously and immediately start to form opinions that impact our decisions.

We might think that because someone is loud, they won’t be as intelligent as the quiet candidate wearing studious-looking glasses. We might look for information that supports this initial judgement, ignoring or downplaying evidence that supports the contrary.

Our brains are very good at taking shortcuts and sorting people into categories, especially when we’re distracted, under pressure or feel tired.

Studies have shown that a more diverse workplace is more effective and performs better. So, it makes sense that a diverse and inclusive workforce actually improves a company's revenue, too.

​​There are so many different kinds of biases that can affect the recruitment process, so the best thing to do is to be aware of them, and put measures in place to manage them. With the right training, tools and initiative, your company is more than capable of creating an inclusive working environment that celebrates diversity and gives everyone a fair go.

How to manage unconscious bias in recruitment

  1. Be aware that it exists

The first step to dealing with unconscious bias is acknowledging and accepting that it exists, and you’re not above it.

We recommend implementing unconscious bias training with your managerial staff. Undergoing this training will help them identify hiring prejudices and their own biases.

Through this process, you can all share ideas about how you’re going to manage unconscious bias moving forward. This way, it raises awareness and gets a conversation happening company-wide.

  1. Remove gendered wording from job ads

This is likely something you’re doing innocuously, but using gendered language in your job ads is limiting the number of applications you receive.

Now, you’re probably thinking: “But I’ve never specified whether the candidate has to be a man or a woman!”

The thing is, gendered language goes beyond using he/she pronouns. Gender preferences are conveyed subtly by listing traits or stereotypes typically associated with men or women.

For instance, words like “supportive, collaborative and cooperative” are characteristics that have traditionally been attributed to women. In contrast, we might unconsciously associate the words “dominating, leader, determined or competitive” with a man.

Because of this, a woman reading an ad littered with masculine coded language might unconsciously internalise the belief that she wouldn’t belong in the work environment.

And consequently, they don’t apply. Resulting in fewer women in your team. It may seem trivial, but the truth of the matter is we’ve all grown up internalising gender roles and our unconscious recognises this - even if we’re consciously very well aware that women can also be determined and competitive.

Because of this, you should try to steer clear of masculine or feminine coded words and instead aim for a neutral description that attracts a larger talent pool.

If you need guidance, tools like Textio can help you write unbiased job listings by highlighting wording that could be improved.

  1. Review resumes “blind”

Just because you’re aware unconscious bias in recruitment exists, doesn’t make you automatically immune to it.

Reviewing resumes “blind” takes away the chance of forming an unsubstantiated opinion about a candidate from the get-go.

Taking away any identifiable information, like age, name, gender, ethnicity or even an address, allows you to judge a resume based on a candidate's actual experience and suitability.

There are multiple tools available online that can help you with this, or you can do it manually in a spreadsheet. If you’d like assistance creating a “blind” resume review process, this is something we can help you with.

  1. Create a structured interview process

To keep things fair, avoid holding unstructured interviews. These types of interviews progress in a more organic way, where questions are asked at the interviewer's discretion and they don’t necessarily have boxes to tick.

They might make your candidate and even you, feel more comfortable with how they flow more naturally, but research shows they’re “unreliable for predicting job success” because candidates aren’t being given an even playing field.

An interview process that’s standardised ensures you’re focused on the factors that really matter. Asking your candidates the same set of questions also gives them an equal opportunity to impress you with their skillset and knowledge.

  1. Use an interview panel

One way to manage unconscious bias in recruitment is to skip one-on-one interviews and use a panel instead.

With multiple people weighing in on a candidate's suitability, it’s a lot harder for individual bias to sway the results. For instance, you might unconsciously gravitate towards choosing a candidate because they’re similar to you.

You might inflate their experience and ignore potential red flags. With others on your panel, your opinion isn’t the only one that counts. A panel helps everyone stay on track and form an objective view; focusing on what really matters.

  1. Ask candidates to complete a work sample

An interview is important, but if you really want to remove the potential for unconscious bias, have your candidates complete a work sample of a task they’d be faced with on the job.

This clearly indicates how your candidates measure up against each other and will help you make your judgement.

Do you need guidance from an expert in recruitment? Visit our contact page to get in touch.