When hiring staff, avoiding recruitment bias is not only a matter of ethical consideration, but a diverse workplace can bring together employees with different perspectives, experiences and ideas. This can help smaller businesses to differentiate themselves in competitive markets. So, how can companies avoid unconscious bias in recruitment?

Recruitment bias

Biased hiring poses various risks to companies, which could affect the immediate recruitment process and the long-term success of the company culture. A lack of diversity in the workforce can lead to decreased employee morale or even legal consequences, with companies facing lawsuits, financial penalties or damage to their reputation. 

Part of the HR department’s role is to mitigate such risks by proactively designing unbiased hiring strategies. This article explains recruitment bias and how it can be eliminated from your hiring process using HR tools, recruitment software, knowledge and training.

What is unconscious bias in recruitment?

Unconscious bias in recruitment refers to the unintentional judgments and preferences that individuals may have about others based on characteristics such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, physical appearance, or other factors. These biases occur without the individual's awareness and can influence decision-making in recruitment processes.

Unconscious biases can affect various stages of the hiring process, including CV screening, candidate evaluation and interview assessments. It may lead HR professionals to favour or dislike candidates based on characteristics unrelated to their qualifications and skills. As businesses work to improve diversity, they have to consider how their culture could exclude certain demographics. Therefore, addressing hiring bias is essential for promoting fairness, diversity, and equal opportunities within an organisation. 

Why is hiring diverse candidates important?

Hiring diverse candidates is not just about meeting ethical or legal obligations; it's a strategic business decision that can positively impact employee performance and market competitiveness. 

The following are additional ways a diverse workforce can be good for business:

  • Greater inclusivity
  • Different perspectives
  • Increased creativity and higher innovation
  • Better decision-making
  • Social responsibility
  • Employees feel more invested in company culture and corporate objectives

It’s the norm to have people from a range of cultures and who are perhaps multilingual in a company. This can help organisations adapt to local cultures and strengthen relationships with their business partners and customers. Multilingual employees can also help companies provide better customer service and understand the consumer’s perspective more clearly. 

Five best practices for employers to avoid recruitment bias

A commitment to diversity can attract candidates from a wider range of backgrounds. This broadens the talent pool and increases the likelihood of finding employees with unique skills, experiences and qualifications that align with the company's needs. So, where do HR professionals start when incorporating or improving recruitment strategies and diversity?

Here are five activities that businesses can action straight away:

1. Write inclusive job adverts

Creating an inclusive job advertisement can help to attract a more diverse pool of candidates and contribute to building an inclusive workplace. Inclusive language and messaging in job adverts may make candidates feel welcome and valued, leading to a smoother recruitment process.

Dominic Bareham from Morgan McKinley Australia says:

Dominic Bareham’s insight on recruitment bias and job descriptions

Whilst a 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:

Job title 

The job title is the first thing a job seeker sees in your advertisement. Knowing you’ve got seconds to grab potential candidates' attention makes creating an elaborate job title tempting. Use gender-neutral language to appeal to candidates of all genders and pick gender-neutral job titles, such as ‘executive’ or ‘programmer’.

Job description 

Avoid a default pronoun. Instead, use ‘he/she/they’ 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

Ensuring these are conducive to diverse hiring involves adopting inclusive language, considering alternative qualifications, and promoting an environment welcoming candidates from all walks of life. For example, consider whether specific educational requirements are essential for the role as, in some cases, alternative educational backgrounds or work experience may be equally valuable. 

Finally, proofread the job description 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 removes 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:

  1. Recruit the help of a colleague who isn’t involved in the hiring process
  2. Ask them to anonymise the information mentioned above for every candidate
  3. Replace each candidate’s name with a number
  4. 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? 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. 

Skills tests are instrumental in promoting diversity hiring by ensuring a fair and objective assessment of candidates, focusing on merit, and providing equal opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to showcase their abilities. Incorporating skills tests into the recruitment process contributes to building a more inclusive and diverse workforce.

4. Drive awareness internally

One of the best ways to tackle unconscious bias is to drive awareness of it. You could enrol hiring managers on a course. However, focusing only on demographics within a business has its challenges. For example, it can generate a blame culture. 

Companies must develop best practices, processes and policies that educate all staff on recognising and managing biases. Training Industry recommends seven tips to create an effective training program:

  1. Select a facilitator to lead the training that aligns with your company’s culture and values
  2. Don’t squeeze training into a single session
  3. Explain the psychology behind unconscious bias and what factors contribute to it
  4. Provide actions to manage unintentional bias
  5. Give options to repeat training regularly
  6. Prioritise interaction over hour-long speeches
  7. 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 AI tools for bias

Artificial Intelligence (AI) constantly improves and develops through machine learning. 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 AI maintain the same evidence of biases we find in human cognition. So, what can businesses in Australia do to mitigate this risk?

Sharon Melamed, Founder of Matchboard, says:

Sharon Melamed’s insight on recruitment bias and AI tools

If your business leverages AI tools, take concrete steps to monitor how it is coded and the content it absorbs its information from.

Can we curb recruitment bias for once and all?

While it may be challenging to eliminate bias in recruitment completely, organisations can take proactive steps to reduce its impact significantly. It's important to recognise that bias is often unconscious and deeply ingrained, but companies can create more inclusive and equitable hiring processes with the right strategies and ongoing commitment. 

Such methods include implementing blind recruitment, providing diversity training and leveraging technology such as AI tools to assist in the initial stages of screening. These tools can help minimise human bias by focusing on objective criteria.

The key to diverse hiring is a holistic and ongoing commitment to creating an inclusive culture and continually refining hiring practices to align with diversity and equity goals. 

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