How to Stop Bias from Infiltrating Your Intelligent Recruiting Process

By Jeanette Maister

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Workforce diversity quickly rose to be one of the top values among organizations, especially those focused on driving innovation. Diversity is a catalyst for new and better ideas to help surpass the competition, regardless of the market organizations are serving. To meet this dream, talent acquisition teams are tasked with stepping out of their comfort zone and finding new methods and locations for recruiting potential hires. Unfortunately, unconscious hiring bias is so often a barrier to successful diversity hiring.

Unconscious Hiring Bias Explained

Bias, simply put, is a person’s inclination or prejudice against another person or group of people. Unconscious bias is the prejudices each and every human has and acts on without thinking or malice intent. Instinctively, people tend to like those they align with most. Sometimes that alignment is racial or gendered, sometimes it is personality-based and sometimes it is as simple as a shared (or rival) alma mater. Though these decisions aren’t made on purpose, the threat to a diverse recruitment strategy is still present.

Here are a few of the most common forms of unconscious hiring bias to watch out for:

Conformity Bias — Like peer pressure and groupthink, this bias occurs when an individual follows the thought of the majority, ignoring their own opinions. In recruiting, conformity bias might be present in a panel interview where individuals hesitate to voice their thoughts for fear of disagreeing with the majority

Halo/Horns Effect — This hiring bias occurs when one element or detail of a candidate or resume becomes the foundation of your analysis for the individual. For example, highly regarding an unfit candidate because he or she participated in a specific fellowship or assessing a fit candidate as unfit because he or she went to a certain college.

  • Affinity & Similarity Bias — These are some of the most common forms of unconscious hiring bias. Affinity bias occurs when a recruiter favors a candidate because he or she has shared traits. This could be attending the same college, growing up in the same city or simply reminding them of someone in their life they like. Similarity bias occurs when the recruiter sees themselves or a part of themselves within the candidate and is more open to pursuing their employment because of it.
  • Contrast Effect — Common for recruiters sifting through resumes, this bias takes place when the recruiter or interviewer has multiple people or applications to compare. Naturally, instead of considering the individuals on their own merit, the recruiter or interviewer uses another individual’s skills and attributes to make decisions on the next individual.
  • Beauty Bias — As the name suggests, this bias is rooted in external appearance. If the recruiter or interviewer believes the more handsome individual will be most successful, they might suffer from beauty bias. On the other hand, when someone who is more traditionally attractive is hindered by their appearance (especially in the case of women), is considered the “bimbo effect.”
  • Conformity Bias — When a recruiter or interviewer makes assessments in order to support their initial beliefs of the candidate, they are falling to conformity bias. For example, if a recruiter has decided that a candidate will fit well within the company, they might overlook warning signs in order to back up their first impression.

Hiring Without Bias

Over a decade ago, researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with more traditionally ethnic names, particularly those with African-American/black names, were less likely to receive callbacks for a job opportunity. The survey has long been observed by those in and out of talent acquisition. In fact, in 2016 researchers reported their findings from a two-year survey that answered 1,600 entry-level jobs across 16 US cities with resumes from black and Asian applicants. Some resumes clearly pointed to minority status while others were clearly white or scrubbed of racial cues. They found that 25% of whitened resumes received callbacks, while only 10% with ethnic details did. They found employers were more apt to invite whitened applications than those of minorities, even if qualifications were identical.

These overwhelming findings simply do not align with the number of employers who claim to value a diverse workforce. In fact, even some high-profile organizations, like Google, Facebook and other tech giants, are suffering from a diversity problem. Though many talent acquisition leaders want to hire professionals with varied experiences and from diverse backgrounds, something unbeknownst to them could very well be standing in their way. Thankfully, the answer to overcoming unconscious hiring bias lies in the technology that innovative thought has uncovered. Artificial Intelligence oversteps that human flaw to offer credible and data-backed candidate assessments.

“Technology has paved the way for reducing bias in hiring practices that will filter down to the way organizations are run so that all working people can experience true equality.” -Tess Taylor ( @HRKnows1 ), HR Knows

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