Combatting unconscious bias in recruitment

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This controversy has sparked a strong corporate response, with leading companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Facebook and Google announcing various initiatives designed to showcase their commitment to hiring more diverse employees.

There are significant business advantages to diversity in the workplace. The Department of Business Innovation & Skills has reported that organisations that have a more diverse and inclusive workforce are more innovative than companies that do not. Yet, despite a multitude of these initiatives, bias continues to be a major issue in the workplace.

The reason may lie with the psychological processes that underpin much of recruitment and hiring. Specifically, I’m referring to the unconscious biases that shape our view of the world, and can ultimately impact who we choose to hire.

Unconscious bias is an innate human characteristic; even the most open-minded and well-meaning individuals unwittingly allow unconscious feelings to guide their decision making. Ultimately this means that even the most well-meaning corporate commitment to inclusion and diversity may be derailed by biases that employers and hiring managers don’t even realise they have.

Knowing that, how do organisations mitigate against these biases to ensure that they are not putting off the best talent, or letting them slip through their fingers? Here are five ways to start.

Ask your employees to undergo bias training

There are a variety of different bias training options available today, many of which are free. Many companies find these to be an excellent way to educate employees and hiring managers about the issue of unconscious bias and to become aware of their own biases. This in turn, helps them become more effective interviewers.

Read more about the recruitment space:

Use gender-neutral, inclusive language in job descriptions and/or questionnaires

Research has found that certain terms skewed towards male stereotypes can send unintentional messages in job listings and discourage potential candidates.

For example, Unitive’s research suggests that phrases such as “ambitious,” “dominate,” and “analytical” turn off would-be female candidates from applying to job listings.

The good news is that technology is making it easier than ever to spot and identify these words and phrases. Textio is a web-based tool that uses statistics and machine learning capabilities to analyse the text of a job posting and identify patterns.

It then predicts the performance of a particular ad by identifying problematic or biased phrases, which have been shown to discourage potential applicants.

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