How to prevent bias in hiring

Daniel Paylor
Published on 5th April 2018
3 min read

How can you be sure that there is no bias involved when it comes to hiring in your business?

Bias in hiring comes in many guises, from being down right discriminatory to unconscious bias – gravitating towards people who look and behave like you when selecting successful candidates. The latter is much subtler and rarely intentional, but it’s discriminatory nonetheless.

Diversity in the workplace leads to better results. Research from McKinsey has proven that diverse businesses deliver 35% better results than non-diverse businesses.

So, how do you ensure that your business eradicates bias from the recruitment process? Here are five handy tips to get you started.

1. Make awareness training compulsory

Eliminating bias is not as easy as it seems, given that it’s human nature to be bias. Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School, says that unconscious bias ‘causes us to make decisions in favor of one person or group to the detriment of others.’

The first step for any company is to help their workers understand their biases (which they might not even think they hold) and to prevent them from influencing their hiring decisions. Organizations who are doing this well are FacebookCoca ColaGoogle and the CIA.

If the training is to be truly effective, then it must be obligatory and should be given to all employees, not just HR and People teams. However, training is not enough. Other more proactive steps should be taken to build a more diverse workforce.

2. Rewrite job descriptions to eliminate discriminatory language

Job descriptions are hugely important as they provide the first insight into the company culture for a potential recruit. Good People Companies think like marketers in this case and tailor the language used based on the skills they are looking for.

Research shows that masculine language, including adjectives like ‘competitive’ and ‘determined’, puts off women. On the other hand, words like ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’, tend to attract more women than men.

Equally, using excessive business jargon, long words and abstract descriptions deters many entry level applicants, especially from underprivileged backgrounds, from applying, making them feel that they are somehow not up to the role.

Consider your language carefully; try using software programs that highlight stereotypically gendered words and alternate between ‘he’ and ‘she’ in your job description to strike the right balance.

3. Automate resume selection

Software can be programmed to search for key words relevant to skills, experience and personal attributes. It is therefore blind to gender, name, or even address, all things which humans build biases on.

For example, the US Bureau of Economic Research study ‘Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?’ found that applicants with African-American sounding names were 50% less likely to get a call back for an interview.

Algorithms can be used to look beyond the stereotypical white, male, college educated profile and search instead for key attributes and qualifications that make a person right for the job regardless of background, ethnicity, social mobility or gender. The main concern here is to ensure that human prejudices are not built into the algorithms in the first place.

4. Evaluate your candidates

Evaluating your candidate is very important to overcome the human bias inherent in likeability. It is important to hire someone you like, and your team likes, but the problem with the likeability test is that humans will hire in their own image.

This does not make for a very diverse workforce. Likeability plays a big part in assessing whether someone is the right culture fit for your company but it’s crucial that hiring managers don’t decide on that factor alone.

Set each candidate an identical task such as producing a report, giving a presentation or solving a particular problem, and then score them on it. Likeability can be a factor but apply a scoring system to this too. The candidate who achieves the highest score gets the job.

5. Standardize interviews

Ask everyone the same questions so everyone has an equal opportunity to respond and attribute the scoring system to it.

Research shows that while unstructured interviews receive the highest ratings for perceived effectiveness from hiring managers, dozens of studies have found them to be among the worst predictors of actual on-the-job performance.

Mental ability, personality and aptitude tests are a far better indication of performance.

Not just recruitment, but retention

Creating a more diverse workforce requires a real commitment. These points will go a long way, but this is not a tick box exercise. It is a cultural shift from the top down.

For example, organizations that have traditionally favored candidates from the most prestigious universities must open up their recruitment pool to candidates from other educational backgrounds too.

It’s not just about recruitment either; it’s about retention too. For instance, there is still a huge gender pay gap globally. Scandinavian countries have consistently come up top in the gender parity tables because they report gender statistics and pay and Iceland has recently adopted laws to ensure that men are not paid more than women.

However, whether it is a legal requirement or not, companies who are serious about hiring and retaining the best talent should be transparent about gender reporting and diversity to drive success.

Find out what your workers really want. Download our research from 3,500 employees on what really makes them productive at work.

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