HR tech | What is unconscious bias in recruitment, and how can organisations mitigate against it?

What is unconscious bias in recruitment, and how can organisations mitigate against it?

Being unconsciously biased is a human trait that we all hold from growing up. These can be harmless, or they can otherwise be consequential - including whom we think we will and won’t enjoy working with.

Organisations have more recently worked hard to ensure a non-biased workplace environment. However, there are still some areas in which decisions are being made on a human-to-human level, especially in recruitment, that seem to be prone to the unhelpful influence that our biases bring.

So, what does bias look like in recruitment?

All of us hold unconscious biases formed from a mixture of our upbringing, experiences, environment and even the media we consume.

Some of these biases can be relatively harmless, such as forming preconceived ideas as to what foods you may or may not like before trying them. Others, though, are more harmful and consequential - including who we think we will and won’t enjoy working with.

Organisations have been working harder than ever over the last decade to ensure their workplaces and practices are equitable with diversity considerations at the core of their thinking.

But with many business decisions still mostly being taken on a human-to-human level, especially when it comes to recruitment, critical organisational functions are prone to the unhelpful influence that our biases bring.

So what does bias look like in recruitment, why does it matter, and what can be done to help nullify it?

What does unconscious bias in recruitment look like?

Unconscious bias when it comes to recruitment decisions influences a far broader set of attributes than you may imagine.

Two of the biggest bias factors are race and gender. Research shows that applicants with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get callbacks for jobs than those with ethnic-sounding names. Further data suggest women are on average 30% less likely to progress from application to interview than a male counterpart with the same characteristics.

There are more subtle biases that come into play too, and not all of them are unconscious. For example, hiring managers could show preference to one candidate over another based on having a similar affinity for the town they grew up in, the university they went to, or simply thinking that their application suggested they’d be easier to get along with.

Critically, all these decisions are made in the early hiring stages, often at first impression, meaning great candidates are dropping out when they perhaps shouldn’t be.

The business case for diversity has already been made

Before considering the benefits of diversity at work, it’s key to note that making strides to improve diversity in the workplace is first and foremost the right thing to do.

But the right thing to do, backed up by a sound business case, often gets more support and internal investment.

Download now: Building a business case for HR technology investment

Numerous studies have shown a positive correlation between diversity and organisational success, including that diverse teams are 60% more effective when it comes to decision-making.

Levels of employee engagement are also higher for millennials when the place they foster an inclusive culture, whilst a McKinsey report highlights how companies in the top 25% when it comes to gender diversity are 15% more likely to have above-average financial returns.

Mitigating bias in your recruitment processes

We know bias is an issue, and we also know from reams of data and research that mitigating against it within our hiring practices delivers beneficial organisational outcomes. So, what structures and practices can be implemented to help mitigate bias within the recruitment process?

Choose your desired outcome

Why do you want to focus on removing bias from your recruitment processes? Whether it’s to ensure great candidates don’t slip through the net or because your organisation actively wants to increase the percentage of employees with certain characteristics, the answer to this question will help shape the processes you put in place to achieve the end goal.

Invest in education

Educating all employees, especially those making hiring decisions, as to the presence of unconscious bias in their decision-making will deliver benefits beyond your recruitment processes.

Diverse hiring boards

For larger organisations, an internal hiring board or committee can help mitigate against some of the biases that just one or two individuals may hold when choosing who to interview or send a job offer to. This can include a mix of genders, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and educational levels too.

Blind screening

Focus on skills and experiences, not personal information. Blind screening within recruitment can help remove unconscious bias by screening applicants’ personal identifying information, such as name, email and photo, to ensure that focus is only given to their skills and experience.

Standardising recruitment processes

Our biases have more room to influence decision-making when we’re not following a pre-planned process. Standardising processes, such as creating a candidate scoring system, can help remove the unconscious focus we put on personal factors, such as ‘I think I’ll get along with them’.

Embed the right software into your HR and recruitment processes

The right HRIS can support in the reduction of unconscious bias within recruitment processes by automatically applying blind screening techniques to job applications, as well as utilising AI to ensure that those job descriptions aren’t weighted towards garnering interest from certain groups.

The right HR software can also help implement candidate scoring, including automatically assessing CVs and cover letters to see how well they match the initial job post - enabling hiring managers to pick candidates to interview based solely on their ability to do the job.

At Phase 3, we help organisations like yours to source, select and integrate the right HR and payroll systems at the first time of asking, with all the capabilities your organisation needs for the now and the future.

Learn more about our HR system selection services here.

Contact us