Unconscious biases can sneak in without us knowing. While we want hiring to be fair, these biases can lead to unintentional discrimination and hurt our goal of creating an inclusive and dynamic workplace, especially during the hiring process.
In this blog, we’ll look at common unconscious biases in recruitment and where we need to keep our eyes focused on maintaining a fair and equal process.
What Are Unconscious Biases in Hiring?
Unconscious bias, or implicit bias, refers to the subtle, automatic judgments and stereotypes people feel about others based on race, gender, age, disability, and ethnicity. These biases often stem from societal and cultural influences, which can manifest in hiring decisions without the recruiter or hiring manager’s knowledge.
Types of Unconscious Biases in Hiring
Often, our brains unconsciously rely on personality, background, or experience to make hiring decisions, which can lead to unintended and unfair results. Here are several ways we can exhibit hiring bias without even realizing it:
1. Confirmation Bias
Think about those moments when you’ve formed an initial impression of a candidate. Have you ever noticed that you tend to seek out information that confirms your initial thoughts?
This is confirmation bias in action. It can manifest when interviewers unknowingly seek out evidence that supports their initial impression of the candidate while ignoring evidence that contradicts it.
For example, suppose an interviewer believes that candidates from a particular university are more capable. They might subconsciously focus on the achievements and qualifications of applicants from that institution, ignoring better-qualified candidates in others.
2. Affinity or Similarity Bias
If you’ve noticed that you’re drawn to candidates who share your traits or characteristics, you’re not alone. Similarity bias is a natural tendency to prefer individuals who resemble us in background, experiences, or interests.
3. Disability Bias or Ableism
Disability bias is when people with disabilities face unfair treatment. With this bias, people with disabilities are perceived as less capable, less skilled, or less intelligent than those without disabilities.
4. Halo and Horn Effect
We all have our strengths and weaknesses. However, sometimes, these can overshadow a candidate’s overall qualifications. The halo effect occurs when a single positive trait outshines all others, while the horn effect involves one negative feature affecting the perception of an otherwise strong candidate.
5. Contrast Effect
The contrast effect occurs when interviewers evaluate candidates relative to those they’ve interviewed before. If previous candidates were underqualified or overqualified, the perception of the current candidate may be skewed based on the previously reviewed candidates.
6. Paternalistic Attitudes
Some recruiters may display a paternalistic attitude towards candidates with disabilities, viewing them as needing help or sympathy rather than treating them as equal professionals. This can lead to patronizing behavior and undermine the candidate’s professional dignity.
7. Attribution Bias
This involves attributing certain behaviors or outcomes to inherent traits or characteristics rather than situational factors. In the context of hiring, this bias can manifest as attributing a candidate’s success or failure to their innate abilities or personality traits while disregarding the impact of external factors.
For example, interviewers might think confidence equals competence, overlooking the candidate’s efforts. While confident candidates can be competent, recruiters must also consider the practice and preparation candidates pour into job applications.
8. Accessibility Bias
This occurs when the hiring process itself is not accessible to people with disabilities. For instance, if an interview location is not wheelchair accessible or if application materials are not available in formats accessible to visually impaired candidates, it can prevent qualified candidates from fully participating in the hiring process.
9. Beauty Bias
This bias is the inclination to prefer attractive candidates over less attractive ones. Research from the University at Buffalo revealed that individuals deemed more physically appealing are more likely to get hired and receive better evaluations.¹ This gives an unfair privilege to people who are perceived as attractive.
10. Bias in Job Requirements
Sometimes, job descriptions include requirements that unnecessarily exclude people with disabilities, such as physical demands that are not actually essential to the job. This can prevent candidates with disabilities from applying, even if they can perform the core functions of the role.
Impacts of Unconscious Biases in Hiring
Although they can be unintentional, unconscious biases can affect the growth of an organization significantly and lead to:
1. Reduced Diversity and Stifled Innovation
When unconscious biases influence recruitment decisions, qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds are often overlooked, resulting in a homogeneous workforce.
In an organization where everyone thinks and acts similarly, there is less room for out-of-the-box thinking that drives groundbreaking discoveries and developments. Diverse teams are more likely to generate innovative solutions and products.
2. Impact on Company Reputation
In today’s interconnected world, news of discriminatory hiring practices can spread quickly. A reputation for biased hiring can have long-lasting negative consequences for an organization, reducing customer trust, tarnishing employer brand, and creating difficulty in attracting top talent.
3. Reduced Employee Engagement
When employees perceive that their organization’s hiring process is biased, it can erode trust and reduce employee engagement. Employees from underrepresented groups may feel undervalued, leading to lower morale, decreased productivity, and higher turnover rates.
8 Practical Ways to Reduce Hiring Biases
Here are proactive steps you can take to foster an environment that centers on equality, reducing biases and discrimination during recruitment:
1. Educate Yourself
The first step in addressing unconscious biases is to acknowledge their existence. Through training and workshops, open dialogues, and continuous learning, you can educate yourself and your team about the biases that can arise during the hiring process. This heightened awareness can be an encouragement to make necessary improvements.
You can also make yourself aware of what biases you hold that may be subtly affecting your hiring decisions. You can use tools such as Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test.²
2. Standardize the Hiring Process
Another way to minimize the influence of biases is to standardize the hiring process. This involves establishing clear, consistent criteria for evaluating candidates. When all candidates are assessed against the same set of standards, it becomes difficult for biases to affect the decision-making process.
Standardization can begin with creating a job description that outlines the qualifications, skills, and experience required for the role. This document should serve as the foundation for evaluating all candidates. Additionally, structured interview questions and scoring rubrics can help ensure all candidates are assessed fairly and consistently.
3. Blind Resume Screening
Blind resume screening can also be an effective strategy to mitigate biases early in the hiring process. Research by Zippia shows that only 20 percent of job applicants who fall outside the categories of being white, male, or having attended an elite school manage to pass the initial resume screening.³ However, when blind hiring practices are implemented, 60 percent of applicants who do not fit these criteria successfully make it to the selection process.
To practice blind screening, remove information that personally identifies candidates, like names, photos, and addresses, to eliminate potential biases unrelated to the candidate’s ability to perform the job.
4. Diverse Interview Panels
If everyone on the interview panel shares the same background and experiences, they might have similar biases. But when you have interviewers with different backgrounds and perspectives, it’s more likely that you’ll get a fair evaluation of a candidate’s qualifications.
5. Implement Structured Interviews
In structured interviews, all candidates are asked the same predetermined questions related to the job and evaluate their skills, qualifications, and experience. This makes it less likely for interviewers to ask biased questions, ensuring a fair assessment for everyone.
6. Leverage Technology
In today’s digital age, technology can be a valuable ally in the fight against unconscious bias in hiring. Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools can assist with candidate selection and screening, providing an additional layer of objectivity. These tools can assess resumes and applications without being influenced by personal biases and can help identify candidates who closely match the predetermined job criteria.
However, it’s essential to use these technologies thoughtfully and monitor them for potential biases in their algorithms to ensure they are not perpetuating or introducing new biases into the process.
7. Establish Clear Diversity and Inclusion Goals
Consider setting clear diversity and inclusion goals to promote equitable hiring practices. These goals can include targets for underrepresented groups and timelines for achieving these objectives.
8. Encourage Inclusive Language and Job Descriptions
According to a study by LinkedIn, definitive words like powerful, strong-willed, and confident resonate positively with both men and women.⁴ Women also prefer subjective and open descriptors like likable and supportive.
It’s essential to ensure that the language used in the hiring process remains inclusive and does not discourage certain groups from applying. Take time to review and adjust job descriptions regularly to foster an inclusive hiring environment by eliminating biased or exclusive language to make jobs more appealing to a broader range of candidates.
INNOVATION, PRODUCTIVITY, AND CREATIVITY THROUGH DISABILITY HIRING
If you’re looking to improve your workforce diversity, disability hiring is a great solution. Many people fear that individuals with disabilities may face limitations in the workplace. However, this fear is often rooted in unconscious biases.
At Peak Performers, our goal is to find roles that align with professionals with disabilities and to organically diversify our clients’ workforce by placing qualified individuals in appropriate positions. You can rest assured that you’ll be working with a trusted staffing partner.
Contact us today to kickstart your journey toward building a more inclusive and diverse workplace.
- Tu, Min-Hsuan, et al. “Is beauty more than skin deep? Attractiveness, power, and nonverbal presence in evaluations of hirability” Personnel Psychology, 27 May 2021, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/peps.12469.
- “Preliminary Information.” Harvard Edu, implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatouchtestv2. 21 Nov. 2023.
- Flynn, Jack. “15+ Shocking Hiring Bias Statistics.” Zippia, 16 May 2023, www.zippia.com/hiring-bias-statistics.
- “LinkedIn Language Matters Report.” LinkedIn, business.linkedin.com/Linkedin-Language-Matters. 15 Oct. 2023.