What is unconscious bias in the recruitment process?

Bias occurs when you favour one person over another. Unconscious bias occurs when you do it without actually realising. It’s often due to shared similarities between both individuals.

Within a work setting, it can impact decision making at various levels including recruitment, promotions and benefits. To avoid claims of discrimination, it’s important to be aware of any legal considerations when conducting interviews.

Various studies show that companies who’re more diverse (culturally and ethnically) are more likely to see better profit margins.

This piece focuses on unconscious bias during the recruitment process. In it, we’ll discuss the importance of being able to recognise and avoid it. We’ll also highlight some tips for overcoming unconscious bias during this process.

Unconscious bias in recruitment

During this process, it’s easy to be impressed by an applicant that you have a lot in common with. In recruitment, unconscious bias occurs when the interviewer is influenced by assumptions, preferences and expectations.

This could be as a result of:

  • Background.
  • Shared personal experiences.
  • Societal stereotypes.
  • Cultural content.

It’s important to remember the nine grounds for equality. The Equality Acts 1998-2015 define grounds where it’s unlawful to discriminate against individuals. They are:

  1. Age.
  2. Disability.
  3. Gender.
  4. Sexuality.
  5. Family status.
  6. Civil status.
  7. Race.
  8. Religion.
  9. Members of the travelling community.

Recruiters and HR professionals within organisations must consider all of these, from the advertising stage right through to the point of making an offer. As well as introducing unintentional discrimination, it can also result in poor decision-making and lack of diversity in any organisation.

Many types of unconscious bias could occur at this point. Types of bias that could occur at this stage include:

Affinity bias: preferring someone that shares qualities with you or someone you like.

Conformity bias: This occurs when you are influenced by those around you. A common example of this in the recruitment process is when you allow other people’s opinions to skew your views of a candidate.

Beauty bias: making decisions based on an individual’s physical appearance instead of their skills or knowledge.

Attribution bias: refers to how the recruiter attributes their actions as well as those of others around them.

Gender bias: this involves displaying a preference for one gender over another. An example of this during the recruitment process is when the recruiter unconsciously leans towards hiring a man because they think they’re better for the role.

Halo and horns effect: the halo effect occurs when the interviewer focuses on a specific positive feature of an applicant, viewing them in sort of a ‘halo’ light instead of focusing on all of their attributes, positive and negative. The horns effect is the opposite, this occurs when a recruiter only focuses on a negative element.

Overcoming unconscious bias

The first and most effective way to avoid bias is to be aware of it. If you keep unconscious bias in the back of your mind at all times, you’re more likely to take steps to prevent it.

Other methods of overcoming unconscious bias include:

  • Taking your time to consider issues and candidates as opposed to rushing through decisions just to fill a position.
  • Justify your decision by providing evidence of all considerations taken during the process.
  • Include others in the decision process. To avoid claims of discrimination, consider including other members of staff to the process, as their input can help address the recruiter’s biases.
  • Concentrate on the positive behaviour of applicants and avoid depending on negative stereotypes.
  • Implement consistent procedures and practices that limit the influence of individual recruiters.
  • Name-blind recruitment. Research has shown that a person’s name can affect their success when applying for jobs. A name-blind method of recruitment means there’re no options for applicants to provide their name, gender and age on an application form before sending it to the recruiter. It allows them to overcome discrimination and unconscious bias.

Finally, while it’s impossible to eliminate unconscious bias in the workplace, it is important to provide employees with adequate training on bias and how it can affect the business as a whole. Educate them on the different types of unconscious bias and how it can be reflected in the recruitment process.

Article Written By:
Alan Hickley

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