What Can You Do About Unconscious Bias?

Going through the hiring process can be unnerving and anxiety-inducing, but for a significant percentage of applicants, it’s become downright upsetting. At least that’s what a recent survey from GetApp uncovered. When it comes to the topic of unconscious bias, many candidates feel that employers are falling short.

In case you’re not familiar with this term, “unconscious bias” refers to the brain’s tendency to take mental shortcuts, relying on observed patterns (including cultural stereotypes) to quickly and subconsciously process information.

This is especially troublesome in the hiring process since it means that recruiters and hiring managers may make decisions based on bias rather than a candidate’s actual abilities.

We caught up with Karen McCandless, Researcher at GetApp to learn more about their survey and what its findings mean.

Can you give us a quick recap of your survey and its findings? What do you think this means for companies and recruiters?

GetApp survey of 1,500 US respondents aged between 25 and 65 found that 34% of people think that most companies have biased recruiting processes, while 23% believe that all companies have unfair hiring practices. 37% of women believe that most recruiting is unfair, compared to 32% of men. Meanwhile, 39% of millennials think that most recruiting practices are biased, compared to 32% of Gen X.

While there will undoubtedly be conscious bias at play throughout companies, often the bias is still unconscious, or due to other recruiting factors and pressures. These findings suggest that companies’ recruiting practices are outdated, and that they are often still using manual methods to source and hire candidates.

More than a third of people find hiring processes to be unfair and biased. Which elements of the hiring process are most likely to involve bias and how can recruiters and hiring managers avoid this?

The screening process is one area where bias is likely to arise. If a company is still reviewing résumés as a first step in this process, then there are many areas where bias can arise—consciously or unconsciously. This could be in terms of education, financial background, name, gender, etc.

Equally, if you use a recruitment firm, then due to the volume of applicants that need to be sorted and processed in a short time, often bias naturally arises because it’s easier to filter out applicants that don’t match your expectations of what someone in this role should be like.

To overcome this, more effort needs to be put into finding different and better ways to screen candidates, such as anonymous skills-based testing.

Job posts can often—unconsciously—be tailored towards a certain gender, background, or age. Luckily there are tools out there that can analyze your job posts to make sure they are catered for all parts of society.

Why do you think women are more likely than men to consider the hiring process biased? What can companies do to make their hiring process seem fairer for everyone regardless of their gender?

Women are still underrepresented in the workforce—only 14% of CIOs are female, according to stats from Gartner. While companies may pay lip service to diversity, the figures often don’t match up. Microsoft’s representation of female employees declined by one percent in 2016, while we still see corporations such as Oracle being accused of paying white, male employees more than their counterparts.

Blind recruiting and putting an end to the use of résumés as a first step in the screening process can help make hiring fairer, regardless of gender. Researchers from Harvard and Princeton found that blind recruiting increased the likelihood that a woman would be hired by between 25 and 46%.

What can recruiters do to reduce bias in their hiring process? What about hiring managers and interviewers?

To reduce bias, recruiters can turn to HR and recruiting solutions that include artificial intelligence, machine learning, and algorithms to evaluate potential clients. This can involve anything from scanning applications or résumés for keywords, to digitized interviews, and even recruiter chatbots.

More advanced applications include using machine learning to automate the keyword list based on what keywords have led to successful hires in the past. This can even extend to scanning the words that previous hires have used in digital interviews, as well as their facial expressions.

Recruiter chatbots can be used in digitized interviews to ask and answer questions as well as provide feedback. Through machine learning, these chatbots can better interact with candidates, and provide better outcomes.  

If candidates feel that they've been treated unfairly in the hiring process, what can they do to address this? What steps can companies take to show candidates that fair and unbiased hiring is a priority for them?

Discrimination based on gender, race, and age is illegal and there are ways that employees can file complaints and take action. Social media is also a very powerful tool in calling out companies’ bad practices. However, employers need to take the initiative to analyze and find areas in which they have consciously or unconsciously introduced bias in the recruitment process.

There are three steps that companies need to implement to ensure that they are prioritizing unbiased hiring. These are measurement, transparency, and accountability. This starts with measuring the demographics of candidates that are being interviewed and hired. In terms of transparency, organizations—large and small—should make their diversity figures public, even if this means admitting that they don’t have their house in order, but are striving to improve. This should be accompanied by accountability, where companies set targets for the diversity of candidates they recruit, and then there are consequences for when they don’t meet those targets.

Karen McCandless is a business and technology writer and researcher who has covered everything from mobile app reviews to writing on B2B topics for the retail and manufacturing industries. She’s an editor at GetApp, a Gartner company.

How else can you adopt your recruiting processes to make your company more diverse and inclusive? Download our eBook, "4 Steps to Hiring a Diverse Team" for actionable tips and tricks.

Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno is the Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse, where she gets to share her love of the written word and endorse the use of the Oxford comma on a daily basis. Before joining Greenhouse, Melissa built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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