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How to overcome unconscious bias in recruitment

Maria Cosgrove

Overcoming ‘Unconscious Bias’ during recruitment can help organisations find the best person for the job, become more diverse, and perform better. So says a new report. Contributor Maria Cosgrove, Director of Operations – Morgan McKinley.

Even though diversity is seen as an integral aspect of recruitment today, unconscious biases are still an issue in the modern workplace. While businesses may have sincere intentions to be neutral and fair, biases often creep into everyday decision-making, especially when it comes to the hiring process. That’s the findings of research entitled The impact of unconscious bias on the recruitment process researched by M3S Talent Solutions powered by Morgan McKinley. 

Unconscious bias unfairly excludes worthy job candidates from job opportunities. Furthermore, it deprives businesses and organisations of not only the best people for the job, but also the benefits of workplace diversity.

The four types of unconscious bias in the workplace are:

The Affinity Bias – otherwise known as the ‘like me’ bias. E.g., “This person is like me so they must be worth hiring.”

The Confirmation Bias – Tendency to search for, interpret and/or recall information in a way that confirms a perception.  E.g., “Left handed people are more creative”

The Halo Effect – Similar to “rose-tinted glasses” this is when we see one great thing about a person and we let that significantly affect our overall view. 

The Cloven Hoof Effect – This is the direct opposite of the Halo effect. This is when we see one bad thing about a person and we let it cloud our opinions of their other attributes.

Unconscious bias can have a significant impact on hiring from talent attraction right through to interviews, projects and internal promotions.

“Humans are naturally biased. From a neurological perspective, every day we filter tonnes of information and to prevent overload, our brains are hardwired to automatically categorise and compartmentalise subject matter, making it easier to process. At the same time, this process can predispose us to draw conclusions based on unconscious stereotypes.

You might have subconscious or stereotypical views of what a successful person looks like – which can affect how you compare and contrast different candidates rather than assessing each on their own individual merit. Organisations need to remove bias, conscious and unconscious and make sure that all prospective employees are treated fairly. If not, you will struggle to attract the right talent. 

It’s well known by now that teams with a range of different ethnic backgrounds, differing experiences and alternative styles will help drive innovation and allow for a large variety of opinions and perspectives to be considered. Firms who fail to recognise that are placing themselves at a disadvantage.

Therefore, it’s important to recognise and develop strategies to overcome subconscious beliefs and preferences to create truly diverse and inclusive teams.

Our paper looks at the four types of unconscious bias in the workplace and how we can ensure that we are aware of such biases and minimise them during recruitment and hiring.

Fortunately, we can use a range of different strategies that are simple to implement and improve our hiring processes to reduce or eliminate the negative effects. These include gender neutral job descriptions, the importance of avoiding gender-coded words and blind reviewing of CVs without name or gender being included at first, which has shown to be most effective.

Effective ways of removing unconscious bias, using technology and artificial intelligence, include the use of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) to write job descriptions, matching technology to shortlist candidates with the right skill set.

No organisation has completely cracked the code, but acknowledging bias and shifting mind sets is the first step towards open, diverse and inclusive workforces, with more varied ideas based on experiences and knowledge coming from different backgrounds. Putting all these ingredients together translates into greater business success and potentially higher revenues.

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