We’d all like to believe that we’re immune to bias in recruitment—but science will disagree with you. It’s not that we’re actively prejudiced or inclined to discriminate against others. However, implicit bias is a natural part of human instincts.
Scientists believe stereotyping, for example, serves a purpose. It helps us navigate the world without feeling overwhelmed. The downside is that this potential to be biased is hard-wired into our way of thinking, and if it enters the workplace, it’s problematic.
Part of Human Resources (HR) role is to mitigate this risk by proactively designing unbiased hiring strategies. In this article, we explain what bias in recruitment looks like, and how it can be eliminated from your process using recruitment tools, knowledge, and training.
What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious biases are previously learned stereotypes that are deeply ingrained in our minds. This is because ‘difference’ is harder for our brains to accommodate.
One big problem with unconscious bias in the workplace is that it hinders inclusivity and diversity. Consider the trendy setting of a startup, for example. Think bean bag chairs, ping pong tables, and out-of-work hours activities, like happy hour. A hyper-focused CEO might not stop to consider what it’s like for employees with young children who can’t go out and network with their colleagues. These people could be seen as not being team players.
Additionally, some people don’t like to see the office with perks like ping pong tables. They might prefer a more traditional office space with fewer distractions that ultimately keep them from finishing earlier.
Now imagine a company that forces staff to use annual leave days during the Christmas period. What about those employees who celebrate different religious festivals? The ‘one rule to suit them all’ attitude has meant a sizable chunk of this person’s annual leave has been wiped out before they’ve had a chance to celebrate their own events.
As Australian businesses work to improve diversity, they have to consider how its culture could exclude some demographics.
Why is diversity important?
On top of several pieces of research that shows company diversity leads to greater profits, here are a few additional ways a diverse workforce can be good for business:
- Greater inclusivity
- Different perspectives
- Increased creativity and higher innovation
- Better decision-making
- Employees feel more personally invested in company culture and corporate objectives.
It’s the norm to have people from a range of cultures, speaking a range of languages in one team. More than 30% of people don’t speak English at home in Sydney and Melbourne. But if the candidate pool is consistently filled with the same type of person, creating a multifarious culture within the business is far less achievable.
How can employers guard against bias in recruitment?
We’ve listed five activities that businesses can action straight away.
1. Write inclusive job advertisements
Dominic Bareham from Morgan McKinley Australia says:
‘It starts with the advertising process. Make sure your adverts and content appeal to a diverse group of people. Certain words are more feminine or masculine than others, which means bias can begin even before CV’s lands on your desk.’
Your job description has the potential to deter diverse job candidates. Luckily, there is a simple solution to that—rewrite it! Here’s what you should consider when doing so:
The job title is the first thing a job seeker sees in your advertisement. Knowing you’ve got a matter of seconds to grab the attention of potential candidates, it’s tempting to create an elaborate job title. However, cliché terms such as ‘guru’, ‘hacker’, or ‘rock star’ put women off, says Forbes. Pick gender-neutral job titles, such as ‘executive’ or ‘programmer’.
Avoid a default pronoun. Instead, use ‘he/she’ or phrases such as ‘the successful candidate’. To be safe, copy and paste the text into a free gender decoder to catch words associated with female or male traits.
Requirements and preferences
Research shows that women are far less likely to apply for jobs if they don’t match every requirement. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to apply, even if they only meet 60% of the list. Consider the list of requirements that you’ve set. Are they genuinely an absolute necessity? If the answer is no, put them under your list of ‘nice to have’ qualities.
Finally, proofread it and proofread it again. Ask a group of colleagues—ideally from different cultures and backgrounds—to cast their eyes over it too. The more people that review it, the more likely you’ll catch unintentional bias before the job advert is published.
2. Go blind
Blind recruitment is the process of removing any implications of a person’s identity, such as their name, age, gender, ethnicity, education, interests or beliefs.
You can implement a blind recruitment process by following these steps:
- Recruit the help of a colleague who isn’t involved in the hiring process.
- Ask them to anonymise the information mentioned above for every candidate.
- Replace each candidate’s name with a number.
- Transfer the hard skills (such as experience, skills, qualifications plus any set requirements) into a template.
The recruitment manager then bases their decision on who to progress through to the interview stage based on skill and experience alone.
3. Put candidates to the test
The process can only go so far without seeing and meeting the candidate. So how can you continue driving diversity and inclusivity through recruitment methods?
Two words: Skills tests.
A skills test is an assessment used to gather an unbiased evaluation of the candidate’s ability to perform well. They usually come in the form of small work samples, such as copywriting, coding, selling or presenting.
There’s a strong case for using skills tests in interview processes. This famous scene from The Imitation Games shows Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), competing for a spot within an elite team of code-breakers during World War II. The position was advertised by the team’s leader, Alan Turning (Benedict Cumberbatch) through a newspaper crossword. The fastest to complete the test would win a spot on the team.
Spoiler alert: Keira beats Benedict.
4. Drive awareness internally
One of the best ways to tackle unconscious bias is to drive awareness of it. You could enrol hiring managers onto a course. However, focusing only on demographics within a business has its challenges. For example, it can generate a blame culture.
Companies need to develop best practices, processes and policies that educate all staff on how to recognise and manage biases. Training Industry recommends seven tips to create an effective training program:
- Select a facilitator to lead the training that aligns with your company’s culture and values.
- Don’t squeeze training into a single session.
- Explain the psychology behind unconscious bias and what factors contribute to it.
- Provide actions to manage unintentional bias.
- Give options to repeat training regularly.
- Prioritise interaction over hour-long speeches.
- Outline some goals for learners to work toward.
Businesses could also add relevant virtual training and e-learning courses into their new employee onboarding process.
5. Monitor artificial intelligence for bias
Artificial intelligence (AI) has transitioned from a concept we saw in science fiction films to a facilitator in our everyday lives.
AI constantly improves and develops through a technology called machine learning (ML). This type of technology teaches computers to analyse data and do what comes naturally to humans: learn from experience. But, it’s important to consider the bias of the person who wrote or created the AI.
In recent years, the world has seen cases of AIs maintain the same evidence of biases we find in human cognition. Even Amazon came under scrutiny after its algorithm was found to favour the CVs of male applicants over female applicants.
It’s for this reason that the federal government has released a discussion paper to find an ethical framework for AI in Australia. Just like humans, AI can also be biased. So what can businesses in Australia do to mitigate this risk?
Sharon Melamed, Founder of Matchboard, says:
‘There is a growing awareness amongst HR-techs, who build AI applications for recruiting, that it’s important to have female coders working on their product to minimise unconscious bias within AI algorithms. There is a shortage of coding skills in Australia so this is often easier said than done.’
If your business leverages AI technology, take concrete steps to monitor how it is coded as well as the content it absorbs its information from.
How can we curb bias in recruitment once and for all?
Unconscious bias isn’t going to disappear, and there’s no silver bullet to creating a diverse and inclusive business. However, there are several steps businesses can take to mitigate behaviour that works against it. Below, we’ve summarised everything we’ve suggested in this article into a single infographic.
Bookmark it, share it, and refer to it throughout your hiring process.