Although we are unaware that we are doing it, unconscious bias is prominent when it comes to the recruitment process.
Unconscious bias is defined as:
An inclination or prejudice for against one person or group based on unconscious feelings that influence our judgement. Unconscious bias leads us away for making even or balanced decisions.
One of the areas that unconscious bias is most common is the recruitment process. The stereotypes and subconscious feelings that we’ve developed over time all have an effect on how we perceive others and can be attributed to:
• How we’ve been bought up
• How we’ve been socialised
• Past socialisation experiences
• Media exposure
• Exposure to social identities / social groups
All of these experiences influence how we view people and although we don’t mean to, our deep seated unconscious leads us to form stereotypes. Although this is completely unintentional and without ill intent, it’s something that we just can’t help doing.
When it comes to the workplace, the most common form of bias is gender bias. All of us have clear conceptions of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman and it’s something that we have no control over. The workplace terms ‘glass ceiling’ and ‘gender pay gap’ are good illustrations of just how unconscious bias can have a detrimental effect on the workforce.
How can unconscious bias affect our actions?
Unconscious bias affects our decisions and actions in a number of different ways:
• Perception – how we see people and perceive reality
• Attitude – how we react towards certain people
• Behaviours – how receptive/friendly we are towards certain people
• Attention – which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
• Listening – how much we actively listen to what certain people say
• Micro-affirmations – how much or how little we comfort certain people in certain situations
How unconscious bias affects the recruitment process
There are various types of bias that affect our judgement and perception of a person. The most common forms seen in recruitment are as follows:
Conformity bias is perhaps one of the most common forms you will encounter in real life and recruitment. This type of bias is caused by peer pressure and in a recruitment setting, is most commonly experienced when candidates are interviewed by a group or panel.
For example, if an individual on the panel feels that their colleagues or leaning towards or against a particular candidate, then they are more likely to put aside their own feelings and opinions and go along with what the group thinks.
Studies have been undertaken on conformity bias over the years and in 75% of cases where decisions were made by groups, this type of bias was present.
This is the perception that the most attractive individual will be the best person for the position. As ridiculous as this might seem in a modern society, beauty bias is very much still alive and well when it comes to recruitment.
It is common that the person or people that are making key recruitment decisions will sub consciously be drawn towards the candidate or candidates that share the same or similar physical attributes as the person that previously held the position, or who in their minds looks like the kind of person that would be successful in the role based on their preconceived bias.
An excellent example of this is a study undertaken in the United States where out of the countries total population of individuals measuring up at six foot or over being 15%, more than 60% of company CEO’s are six feet tall or more.
Therefore, this leads to the conclusion that the perception that high ranking executives should be tall is down to beauty bias.
Affinity bias is widespread in recruitment and usually begins at the application stage. Affinity bias occurs when the person tasked with recruiting for the role finds some type of affinity with the candidate. They might live in the same town, have studied at the same university or even look like someone the recruiter knows and likes.
Affinity bias can cover various aspects, both physical and non-physical.
The Halo Effect The halo effect comes about when either looking at a candidate’s CV or interviewing them in person and one thing stands out that can cloud our judgement on everything else about that person. They might have studied at a prestigious university, or received a well-respected award or accolade which put the recruiter in awe of that person.
On the other side of the coin, should one bad thing be noticed and our perception or experience of that particular thing be negative, we also allow this to affect our judgement of that person. This is known as the ‘horns’ effect and it is in direct contrast to the halo effect as it clouds our opinions of other attributes.
It’s only natural that we want to surround ourselves with people who have similar characters, values and work ethics to ourselves in the workplace, but sometimes this means that we are less receptive to the idea of working with others that have slightly different work styles or personalities.
Our natural tendency to lean towards those that we see part of ourselves in isn’t only bias, but it also means missing out on new perspectives and ways of thinking.
If you find yourself sifting through CV after CV, then you may already be exhibiting signs of contrast bias. With contrast bias, it’s very easy to compare the CV you have now to the one that came before it and therefore judge that particular person not on the job specification, but to the previous CV.
What’s important here is to compare the CV against the job description and specification and not the CV that you scrutinized directly before it.
Attribution bias is all about how we assess the skills, accomplishments and mistakes of others.
When we do something well, we put this accomplishment down to our own hard work and merit. When we do something badly, we tend to blame external factors such as unachievable deadlines or other people that have prevented us from achieving our goal.
However, when it comes to other people we tend to take the view that any failings are down to their personality or a particular negative behaviour. If they do something well, then we put it down to luck.
Confirmation bias can be particularly dangerous and it requires extreme care not to fall into its trap. This happens when we subconsciously make an assumption about a candidate, whether this assumption is bought about by the appearance or knowledge taken from their CV or at interview, and seek out evidence to back up the assumption we have made.
We want to believe that we’ve made the right assumption about this person, and we will alter our behaviours and questioning to try and back up this assessment. The downside of this is that our initial assessment could be wrong, and by trying to justify our own judgement we could be setting ourselves up to fail by losing a potentially good candidate.
How to discourage bias in your recruitment process
Discouraging bias can be difficult, but in order to safeguard your business against the threat of legal action, it’s import to attempt to tackle the issue head on.
The first step to discouraging bias in your recruitment process is to create awareness of the problem and acknowledge that it actually exists in the first place. No-one likes to think of themselves as bias, however it’s something that’s subconscious and we can’t help without being aware of it in the first place.
By reading our guide, you may have thought to yourself that you might at some time or another been bias and that’s a great starting point.
Recognise the impact of bias
It’s important to recognise how bias has an effect on your decision making and the processes involved in your business that could be affected. This way, you can pin point the areas where you need to be particular aware of bias to stop any potential damage this could have for your business and goals.
Share your knowledge
Once you have a firm understanding of bias, the problems it can cause and the areas of your business where it is most likely to take place, then you should pass this important information on to anyone who has any part in the processes where bias could be present.
Workshops, training days or role play scenarios will all help to develop your employee’s appreciation and understand of this issue and will ensure that bias does not become widespread.
Revisit policies and practices
Once you have the relevant knowledge and buy-in from your employees, it’s time to revisit any policies, practices and procedures to see if there are any changes you could make to avoid bias in the future.
The most notable area will most probably be your recruitment processes where you may need to revise certain elements from receiving applications, CV screening and interviewing, right up to your offer of employment process.
By taking these steps you can educate, reduce the risk of bias and hopefully remove it from your business to safeguard against legal action.