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Establishing a diverse and inclusive workplace is a priority for all modern organisations of value. There are plenty of initiatives and incentives employers take in order to create and foster this environment and reduce biases. 

However, some biases in recruitment can remain invisible because they are operating outside of our awareness. They can be detrimental to diversity, promotions and retention rates in companies.

What is hidden or unconscious bias?

Unconscious biases are ideas and beliefs that are buried in our subconscious. There are numerous categories of unconscious bias – below are two commonly identified and prevalent ones. We address how they can affect the recruitment process.

1. Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is where we seek and retain information that confirms our beliefs and ignore evidence that counteracts these perceptions. As a result, hiring managers and recruiters may form an opinion (whether it’s positive or negative) about a candidate based on a certain detail that confirms their unconscious bias.

Confirmation bias is very problematic because it creates flawed patterns in our thinking. Instead of properly receiving and analysing circumstances based on all the information available to us, our opinion is altered based on our pre-conceived notions. For example, a skilled and well-presented candidate who also has visible tattoos, could be perceived negatively by a hiring manager or recruiter if they are harbouring an unconscious negative bias against tattoos. 

2. Similarity bias or ingroup bias

This basis is to do with our tendency to gravitate to people who are similar to ourselves. Having similarities and shared interests with people may be more appealing when seeking friendships, however our unconscious similarity basis can be problematic in recruitment. The high-level competency of a candidate may be undermined by the recruiter or hiring manager’s similarity bias. Oftentimes people who don’t share the same gender, race, or age are unfairly disadvantaged by the hiring process. 

There’s no doubt that hidden biases can undermine our efforts to select the best candidate for a role. Below are some of our tips for combating them.

Five tips for counteracting unconscious bias

  1. Format and standardise interviews. We are most at risk of forming unconscious biases when we are less structured in our interviews. For instance, informal chats can heighten our similarity bias. Ensuring that the hiring process follows a standardised structure where competency-based interview questions are asked and each candidate is presented with the same questions is essential.
  2. Form a hiring team. Wherever possible, enlist a diverse hiring team for the recruitment process. This helps to reduce unconscious basis because the decisions become broader and less individual.
  3. Use external assessments. There are numerous non-affiliated assessments and personality tests available that you can utilise in order to gain an objective view of your candidates’ traits. 
  4. Be clear on what you’re looking for. When hiring, it’s important to have a clear idea of the skills the successful candidate will need to have. Make a list of the skills and attributes required for the role and when you’re in final stages, ask yourself which of the candidates is most aligned with the company’s mission statement and the specific skills required to achieve in the role.
  5. Ensure that interviewers have had hidden bias training. Effective unconscious basis training allows interviewers to reflect on their own biases in hiring and then challenge themselves to be less biased and more interested in hiring the person who is the best fit for the job.