In the 1970s the New York Philharmonic Orchestra realised they had a diversity problem. With male musicians making up the grand majority of their ensemble, a lawsuit triggered a radical new audition process.
Incoming candidates would perform on a stage behind a screen, unseen to the auditioning committee. Every effort was made to conceal the auditionee’s identity, with candidates even removing their footwear so no sounds of women’s heeled shoes could be heard.
By the early 1980s, women made up 50% of the new hires, and women continue to make up 45% of the orchestra today. The blind audition process revealed what is called subconscious bias. Although the audition committee weren’t intentionally trying to preference men, a bias against women was clear.
Subconscious biases against underrepresented groups are a massive problem for companies. Not only do they reinforce a culture of inequality, but they can also stop your business from finding amazing talent and are likely costing you money.
What is hiring bias?
Hiring bias would see you preference a certain type of person over another during the recruitment process. It can lead to a lack of gender and cultural diversity in your workforce, and can remove equal opportunities for people with various religious beliefs, sexual orientations and differences in ability.
Bias in hiring can exist at all stages of recruiting, from using discouraging language in job descriptions, to not advertising widely enough, to not recognising great talent to progress.
If hiring business exists at your company (and there’s a high chance that if you haven’t interrogated it, it could), you risk overlooking great talent with valuable skills for your incoming roles. Not making diversity a priority in workforces comes at a great cost to businesses, impacting workplace culture, innovation and revenue.
A 2018 Boston Consulting Group Study found that companies with diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. Writing for the World Economic Forum Vijay Eswaran says of the study; “This finding is significant for tech companies, start-ups and industries where innovation is the key to growth. It shows that diversity is not just a metric to be strived for; it is actually an integral part of a successful revenue-generating business.”
What are the different types of hiring bias?
Unconscious bias can be difficult to detect, and uncomfortable for an individual to unpack. It’s one of the most widespread and dangerous kinds of discrimination that exists in modern society.
It’s simply that – unconscious. You can have great intentions of offering equal opportunities for all job candidates and still make decisions based on unconscious bias. You might think that you are making objective decisions, but your brain may be pushing you towards specific outcomes derived from social and societal conditioning.
❓ An example of societal conditioning? A 2018 google image search study found that the search engine ‘thinks’ that more than 90% of professors are white men.
The negative impact of unconscious biases on underrepresented communities and workplace is dramatic. A 2015 study found that applicants with white-sounding names are more likely to have success than applicants from ethnic minorities with identical CVs.
This type of bias may be subconscious but that doesn’t mean it can’t be tackled. The worst approach is to just assume that you are completely neutral, with research showing that people who believe strongly in their own objectivity are actually more likely to make discriminatory decisions.
Say you’re a hiring manager, rifling through a pile of CVs. One detail in the pile catches your eye – maybe a candidate went to your University. Without thinking, you instantly begin to favour them and they are fast-tracked to the first round of interviews.
This is known as affinity bias – another unconscious tendency – where you may have something in common with a candidate and rank them above others because of this. Affinity bias can give some candidates an unfair advantage that can follow them through the recruitment process.
Like affinity biases, similarity bias can lead hiring managers and recruiters to preference people with similar qualities to themselves. We are naturally drawn to people like ourselves, and studies show that hiring managers will often select candidates that they can see themselves in. This can lead to, what some experts call, an office full of ‘mini-mes’.
Of course, there’s no problem with looking out for a ‘cultural fit’ for your team, but make sure you’re not buying into similarity bias. Celebrate diverse candidates differences and consider how their different personalities and skills could contribute to your workforce.
The contrast effect is a strange phenomenon. Essentially this bias includes making assumptions about candidates based on the directly previous applicant. This would involve a hiring manager sorting through a bunch of CVs, comparing each one directly to the last.
This could also occur when interviewing, when one exceptional interview with a candidate may make the next one feel underwhelming. The contrast effect means that applicants are not seen and evaluated individually.
⚠️ Of course, bias can also be intentional. If someone from your workforce is displaying discriminatory behaviour, take disciplinary action, and remove the individual from any hiring or HR responsibilities until the matter is resolved.
How can we overcome unconscious hiring bias?
1. Create a structured recruitment process
Have your HR managers follow a standardised hiring process for recruitment. Every time a new role appears, candidates should all move through the one funnel. Under one role, candidates should be interviewed with the same questions and respond to the same task. Make sure all applicant paperwork and correspondence is filed in a place that is easily accessible to the hiring team. 💡
An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a centralised source of information that can transform the recruitment process. Easily keep track of all candidate information and paperwork, build shortlists, schedule interviews and hire new employees – all from one place.
2. Provide diversity training for your HR and hiring teams
Most people never intend to display bias, but they may not have the knowledge of how it can manifest unconsciously.
Making your team aware of these unconscious biases doesn’t mean harshly interrogating their approaches. Start with a conversation. Give your team all of the facts, and talk openly about how biases can manifest even within people who have the best of intentions. It’s not about making anyone feel guilty or ashamed, it’s about empowering teams to be the best and most informed versions of themselves.
From there, organise diversity and inclusion training sessions for your team. There are lots of options to do online and in-person training sessions.
Part of making sure you get a great pool of talent for your role is to cast as wide a net as possible. Reaching out to your network is a great way to get the word out, but be sure to extend your advertising effort a lot further than that to find new talent.
Make your job as visible as possible by posting it to lots of different job boards. Use keywords where possible and post frequently about it across social media. Speak to your marketing team about using digital marketing to reach the widest audience possible.
In her book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, author Caroline Criado-Perez describes a study that examined gendered wording in job ads;
“When a European company advertised for a technical position using a stock photo of a man alongside copy that emphasised ‘aggressiveness and competitiveness’ only 5% of the applicants were women. When they changed the ad to a stock photo of a woman and focused the text on ‘enthusiasm and innovation’, the number of women applying shot up by 40%.”
The language and imagery you use in job ads are important. When presenting each role, consider different types of applicants who may be applying. Be conscious of framing your workplace as an accepting and inclusive place to be.
5. Invest in and promote remote / flexible working
Remote and flexible working can open up your workforce to a whole new range of candidates. Let’s be real, the future of workplaces will be made up of hybrid teams. The possibilities of employees that could be captured in these are endless – from working parents and carers to people who live in locations far away from your company HQ.
Forward-thinking businesses will be implementing flexible work practices and promoting these to incoming recruits. So much more talent will be available for your company if you invest in these areas.
Even if you don’t think there is unconscious bias happening in your workplace, consider implementing some blind screenings for a period. This could be an illuminating exercise for your hiring teams.
Upon the first round of hiring, remove identifiable characteristics from CVs like names, gender and academic background. Ask your hiring managers to not visit applicants’ LinkedIn profiles until later in the recruitment process.
You could also ask your first round of candidates to complete personality-based questionnaires or skills-based tasks which are reviewed separately to their CVs. Evaluate all submitted information anonymously before linking them back to the candidate.
After recruiting a selection of roles using blind screening, compare the results to your previous hires. Is there a big difference of diversity in the considered candidates? Share and discuss the findings with your team.
7. Collect and analyse data on your talent pool and hiring procedures
After a period of staff growth, collect and analyse data on your talent pool and hiring procedures. Make note of who is applying for advertised roles, who is being hired and what the candidate experience is like.
Can you identify any patterns that might suggest an unconscious bias in your hiring staff or a lack of diversity in applicants? Ask candidates for feedback, how did they find the recruitment experience? Did they find the job advertisement approachable and did they feel comfortable through the interview process? Encourage them to share any thoughts on whether their experience could have been improved in any way.
💡 Continue to collect this data on an ongoing basis, it’s an important thing to be monitoring as your company grows. Using an ATS can help you store applicant information in one easy-to-use system.
8. Continue to prioritise diversity and inclusion company-wide
It’s simple but worth stating – the more your company prioritises diversity and inclusion, the more diverse and inclusive your company will become. Through inclusive hiring, nurturing everyone in your workforce to unlock their potential, promoting a range of team members to leadership positions, you will create a better performing company with a wealth of skills and perspectives. This, in turn, will create more opportunities for people of all backgrounds to join your team. Consider writing diversity and inclusion commitments into your company values and policies. This will make it clear to your staff that this is a business focus.
The issue may be complicated, but the solution is clear.
Don’t just assume that unconscious bias is not present at your workplace. Work together with your team to create fair hiring processes that will make sure all applicants are given equal opportunities. Doing so will go a long way in creating a more diverse and inclusive team, plus a more innovative and successful business.
Want to learn more about how our Applicant Tracking System can transform your in-house hiring process? The Employment Hero ATS can help your team find the best people, store candidate information in a centralised platform and make offers to great talent. Book a demo today!