The Danger of Unconscious Bias in Hiring

An unconscious bias is an automatic belief about a person or group of people without the benefit of getting to know them. Psychologists agree that unconscious biases are universal to the human experience. The brain forms these biases automatically by making assumptions and categorizing people according to certain external characteristics such as age, gender, or race.

A real problem occurs when it comes unconscious bias in interviews and the hiring process. All other things being mostly equal, the human resources representative may rule out qualified candidates due to their own deeply-rooted biases. While this can rob the company of quality talent, it’s hard for people to recognize this trait in themselves and even more challenging to figure out what to do about it.

Common Biases in Hiring

Federal law prohibits discrimination in hiring on the grounds of race, age, gender, disability, or any other personal attribute that has no bearing on a person’s ability to do the job. Modern biases in hiring are typically not cases of outright discrimination. Instead, they occur due to pre-conceived notions about the applicant’s education, experience, and enthusiasm.

An example of an education bias is choosing a candidate who graduated from Harvard over one who obtained the same degree from a state college. Being overly impressed with how long an applicant has stayed in his or her current position is a common example of an experience bias. The person could be a mediocre employee who retreats from opportunities to pursue professional growth. It’s more important in this case to look at achievements than time on the job.

Most people can muster enthusiasm during a job interview or sell themselves well on paper. That doesn’t mean they will have the same excitement for their position or that they will be a good fit for the organization. Someone with a more introverted personality could have a larger number of skills necessary to perform well in the role.

Tips for Uncovering Unconscious Bias in Hiring

No one likes to think that they possess a bias of any kind, whether it’s obvious or hidden. However, this attitude isn’t helpful for organizations attempting to create a better hiring process. The first step is to recognize that unconscious biases do indeed exist and to bring the human resources department together to explore the issue.

After completing the above step, it’s important for company leadership to identify where individuals and teams could improve. This needs to follow with immediate actions in order for the newly discovered unconscious biases to take hold. Some examples of requirements could include participation in a class about hiring biases, attending outside events put on by people of a different culture, and having accountability partners willing to call out biased behavior when they see it.

Reviewing job descriptions for subtle bias can help companies recruit more evenly. Words like determined and competitive tend to draw more males to apply while words such as collaboration appeal more to females. Companies can even use software programs to find instances of word choice bias that people wouldn’t always recognize at first glance.

These are just a few of many ways to tackled unconscious bias in hiring. While it may never go away completely, acknowledging it and making a proactive plan to address it will benefit future job applicants and the company as a whole.