Liz Sheffield

5 Ways to Reduce Unconscious Bias in the Hiring Process

Despite our best intentions, we all suffer from some level of unconscious bias. Assumptions and stereotypes, picked up throughout our lives, appear when we least expect them — and work is no exception. Projects, promotions and hiring can all create opportunities for unconscious bias in the workplace.

Interviews in particular force an employer to produce a quick assessment of a stranger’s skills, abilities and character. Bias can make it difficult to weigh candidates accurately in that kind of environment. The result? Your business risks overlooking the best person for the job.

Unchecked, unconscious bias can create a workplace in which only a small pool of candidates are hired and promoted, stamping out creativity and innovation. Here’s what you can do to limit how bias affects your business.

Becoming Aware of Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias occurs automatically and relies on quick judgments. Our background, personal experiences and cultural awareness can all color our assessment of others.

Two of the most common forms of unconscious bias are racial bias and gender bias. Simple examples would include:

  • Passing over resumes with more ethnic sounding names, in favor of those with names such as John and Jane.
  • Posting job descriptions that favor one gender; words like “competitive” tend to draw more male candidates, while “collaborative” attract more female applicants.

Though unconscious bias is just that — unconscious — it can influence the way we screen, interview and ultimately hire candidates. The first step in addressing these unknown judgments is to be aware that they exist and put guardrails in place to limit the potential for bias in the hiring process.

Mitigating Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

To mitigate unconscious bias, implement strategies for creating an unprejudiced hiring process. The following five hiring best practices are a great place to start.

1. Choose Your Words Carefully on Job Descriptions

Use descriptive titles like “project manager,” “engineer” or “salesperson” rather than pronouns to describe responsibilities for the role. For example: “As an engineer, you will be responsible for a variety of tasks.” Avoid using words such as “superhero” or “ninja,” which may appeal to one group of applicants more than another. Want confirmation you’re headed in the right direction? Look online for resources like this gender bias detector.

2. Remove Applicant Names From Resumes

Not focusing on an applicant’s name helps level the playing field. A review free from any candidate names means all you have to go on is the information — their skills, their achievements — that really matters.

3. Conduct a Work Sample Test

“A skill test forces employers to critique the quality of a candidate’s work versus unconsciously judging them based on appearance, gender, age, and even personality,” says Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School.

4. Use a Standard Format for Interviews

Standard questions and ratings give organizations an objective baseline for the interview process. Ask candidates the same questions and rate their answers based on a standard scorecard. That way, you can focus on specifics related to performance rather than rely on subjective preferences.

5. Require Bias Training for All Employees

Awareness is the first step in addressing unconscious bias. It’s difficult to change behaviors if you don’t know you have them. Whether employees are involved in the hiring process or not, create opportunities for them to learn and discuss how bias affects their daily interactions in and outside of work.

It may be unintentional, but unconscious bias in the workplace has a long-term impact. Not only does bias cause employers to miss out on talent that can help their business succeed, but it can hurt engagement as well. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 66% of people said biased treatment had “a large impact on their morale, motivation, commitment, and desire to advance in the organization.”

You’re not going to erase bias overnight. Still, even just starting to think intentionally about unconscious bias in the hiring process — and throughout your business’s organizational policies and procedures — lays the foundation for a company culture based on respect and dignity, one that empowers and engages candidates as well as employees.

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