Is Unconscious Bias Holding Back Your Recruiting Team?

The past few years in particular have seen an increasing emphasis on diversity training in businesses around the country, so you might think that bias in Human Resources departments is decreasing. However, a Yale University study found that scientists, who are by nature objective, discriminated against women: both male and female scientists considered men to be more competent than women, were more likely to hire them, and were willing to pay them $4,000 more per year. 

Are these results unusual? Unfortunately, no. Despite the gains we have made in diversifying our workforce, the reality is that biases against women, minorities, religions, and other groups still exist throughout the business world today. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to combat it and to have a workforce that reflects the talents and skills of America’s population.

Are HR Employees Intentionally Biased?

Is it fair to say that a recruiter intends to discriminate against an applicant? Not necessarily. In fact, it is often just the opposite – many believe in diversity and are seeking to cultivate it at their company. 

Instead, the recruiter is falling to what is known as “unconscious bias.” That prejudice, while unintentional, can lead to serious consequences for the company, including possible violations of the 2010 Equality Act, a less diverse workforce, and even the hiring of the wrong candidate.

No matter how difficult it might be to eliminate unconscious bias, the issue must be addressed. To do so,  it will help to first understand the difference between unconscious and conscious bias.

Unconscious vs. Conscious Bias

“Bias” is normally defined as unfairly being in favor of or against a person, a group, or a thing. “Unconscious,” of course, means you are not aware of the bias you have while “conscious” means the opposite. 

So, how does this play out? Take the case of the author, who went to Texas A&M University. If she were a hiring manager and had to choose between a candidate who went to A&M and a candidate who went to University of Texas, her unconscious bias might lead her to choose the Aggie even though she really didn’t give any thought to where the candidates went to school.

Her conscious bias, on the other hand, would cause her to remember that A&M and UT are football enemies, and she would automatically choose the Aggie. The example is light hearted, but you get the point: it’s important for any interviewer to stay aware of their own life experiences and their possible effect on how job candidates are seen.

Types of Unconscious Bias

There are nine types of unconscious bias that can influence who a recruiter chooses for a job: affinity, attribution, beauty, conformity, confirmation, contrast, gender, halo, and horns.

In the case of the author, her bias would be affinity: whether consciously or unconsciously, she would reject the UT candidate simply because of where she and the candidates went to school.

It’s important to note that the type of bias you have can vary depending on where you are in your life and the experiences you have had. A recruiter might be unconsciously biased against a gender when they are in their 30s and after ten years, find themselves with an affinity bias. The wise recruiter will evaluate themselves periodically to be sure that they understand themselves well and that they are not bringing in any outside influences to the recruitment process.

Why Do We Stereotype Others?

With the incredibly varied life experiences that any person has, the answer is complicated. For the author, bias against the UT candidate could lead her to feel good. It could cause her to reminisce about her time in college and be a break from the workday. Sometimes people are biased because they are insecure, so they stereotype others in order to feel superior. 

Regardless of the reason, biases tend to be a knee-jerk reaction we have when we encounter a new person. They prevent us from objectively thinking about the person in front of us and seeing them, their traits, and their skills as they really are.

Are You Unconsciously Biased When You Recruit for a Job?

Most recruiters have the best of intentions, but it is very possible they are biased when they review candidates. For example, a new study shows that qualified Black women are 58% less likely to be hired for a government job than White men.

Among other findings, Black applicants constitute 28% of applications in the public sector but only 18% of people who are actually hired. This is a major reason why minorities are deleting references to their race in hopes that they will sound “white” on their applications. 

While revealing, those numbers are only a sampling of the bias found in hiring, unconscious or otherwise – they do not reflect the ongoing bias against gender, religious groups, or other ethnicities. 

The Consequences of Unconscious Bias in the Hiring Process

The effect on a company whose recruiters are influenced by unconscious bias can be damaging. It is possible they are breaking the 2010 Equality Act by discriminating against an applicant, which could open them up to legal action. 

Unconscious bias can also make the company’s talent pool less effective because the best people for the jobs are not necessarily being hired. Without a diverse workforce, the company may be missing out on valuable opinions and perspectives that could strengthen it. 

How to Avoid Unconscious Bias in Hiring

In 2021, companies are fighting back against unconscious bias in effective ways. Blind hiring, or the censoring of information that could lead the recruiter to know the applicant’s gender, ethnicity, or religion, is resulting in fairer hiring practices. Companies are also using more gender neutral language in their application materials so that the number of women and men who apply for jobs will be balanced.

Standardized interview questions are becoming the norm, which allows candidates to be more fairly compared. Lastly, increasing the number and diversity of recruiters is especially beneficial, as the candidates’ applications will be judged by a range of opinions instead of just one.

Call to Action

While unconscious bias is a serious issue in America’s workforce, hiring departments have effective steps they can take to combat it. It is vital that every recruiter assess how their own life experiences are affecting their perceptions of candidates and implement policies that will ensure that their companies’ workforces are diverse and hired fairly.

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