Unconscious bias is the term used to encompass the deep-rooted prejudices and judgements we absorb simply by living in and experiencing a sadly unequal society.
Unconscious bias can find its way into almost every part of our lives: building friendship groups, choosing an area to live or selecting a candidate to hire. We form biases through our understanding of attitudes, social situations, cultures, stereotypes and more. We can pick up and learn these things from the media, friends, family and through general experiences throughout our life.
Sometimes, we build beliefs and views on others that are neither correct nor reasonable. We think better of someone because they are similar to us, or we think less of someone due to our differences. Both are equally dangerous.
It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, religion, age, gender and many other factors when it comes to hiring decisions. This is why more and more companies are creating diversity policies, focussing on improving diversity in the workplace.
However, the root of the issue is not solved. If these diversity policies fail to address unconscious bias within recruitment, their intended purpose falls short. They are falling at the first hurdle.
To increase diversity in the workplace, you need to minimise the risk of discrimination and bias from the hiring process.
Companies should educate themselves about unconscious bias and the way it manifests in their hiring process. It remains a big issue in recruitment - discrimination against candidates occurs without those hiring even noticing. This is what we refer to as unconscious bias.
What is unconscious bias in recruitment?
Give some thought to your recruitment process. Who is involved? Who are the key decision makers? Who is reviewing resumes, scheduling interviews, hosting interviews?
Unconscious bias raises its ugly head during the recruitment process when those involved are forming their first - and perhaps only - impression of candidates.
There are key areas to look for during the hiring process: relevant skills, experience, capability levels etc. However, unconscious bias will steer the decision-makers towards certain candidates, sometimes above these key areas.
Qualities that the decision maker identifies with, or has in common with a candidate, will lead to them progressing through the recruitment process. For example, if they both attended the same university or if the candidate used to work for the hiring manager's favourite brand of clothing. It is innocent, it isn't deliberate, but it happens.
In the reverse, dismissing potentially strong candidates because they do not possess any similarities will also occur. Bias can stem from factors such as a name, age or even hobbies listed in a personal interests section on their resume.
What are the different types of unconscious bias?
The types of unconscious bias can be categorised and further investigated on an individual level. By improving your awareness of these categories, you can at the very least become more self-aware, and aware of colleagues who are potentially committing the same.
Affinity bias. When you unconsciously have a preference for people who share the same qualities. Our brains are programmed to see individuals as relatable, familiar and therefore 'safe.'
Gender bias. One of the more obvious contenders in the sense that one gender is preferred over the other. Social stereotypes may cause recruiters to lean towards men for a more 'physical' role, or women for a more 'empathetic role.'
Halo and horns effect. The halo effect is where you focus only on the positive features of a candidate, restricting you to a positive light, making it very difficult for you to see the potential risks of a hire. In contrast, the horns effect is where you focus primarily on the negative features, for example, they use a phrase you dislike, which instantly causes you to grow frustrated with everything else they say, regardless of how insightful or skilful it is.
Beauty bias. This may be the hardest one to accept and admit, but we all notice the appearance of others and associate it with their personality. We think that someone is making, 'too much effort' or 'not enough' can lead us to make assumptions. They dress nicely, so must be organised. They have multi-coloured hair, they must be unprofessional.
How can we prevent unconscious bias in recruitment?
So what realistically can be done here? We have explored what unconscious bias is, how, where and why it occurs, as well as how to improve awareness. But what we need to achieve is preventing it from occurring altogether.
Legal implications are not the only reason to avoid unconscious bias and discrimination when hiring. The benefits of a diverse workforce are well documented. Companies with strong diversity policies report cases of higher levels of innovation, improved culture and even a boost in revenue.
Eliminating unconscious bias is more than protecting yourself from a court case; it is about genuinely wanting to succeed.
To minimise the risk of unconscious bias finding its way into your recruitment process, you need to explore the ways in which you can reduce bias before you reach the candidate selection process.
Where are you finding your talent to start with? You need to ensure that you are seeking to diversify your hiring process and not just those you hire. Explore a wider network of candidates, find new sources, reach out to people outside of your 'usual' hiring strategies.
There has been a significant increase in 'anonymous' hiring. No names, ages, genders - just pure skill and experience. Look to reword your job descriptions; use gender neutral terminology. Expand your hiring team; the more voices, the less likely it becomes for one individual to dominate the decision making.
The role of technology is also increasing diversity. Recruitment tools exist that can hide candidate images on resumes, post your job advert in multiple places and therefore widen the audience. Another option is to introduce testing into your recruitment process.
Are Aptitude Tests The Answer?
Aptitude testing is a great way to reduce unconscious bias in the recruitment process. Test results are a firm, quantitative indicator of the suitability of a candidate to the skills required in a job.
Aptitude tests are wholly unaffected by any factor other than raw intelligence and candidate potential. They are a consistent and standardised measure of ability. They do not take academic qualifications, personal history, previous work experience etc. into account.
Candidates answer pre-determined questions which generate unambiguous results that can then be easily compared to other candidates' scores. Aptitude tests can assess candidates on the types of tasks or situations they will be faced with in a role and provide the most accurate and unbiased indicator of future job performance.
Aptitude tests can help calibrate your judgement to see how one candidate compares to another, whilst avoiding unconscious bias. An aptitude test forces the employer to critique the quality of a candidate's work, rather than judging them based on appearance, gender, age and even personality.
Employers get a more rounded impression of an applicant including test results that disregard any influence of human bias.
Unconscious bias is not something that we will successfully eradicate completely. As humans, we are sometimes incapable of recognising our own biases. Unconscious bias stems from our biological makeup; we are programmed to lean towards the familiar and the known.
Of course, now we know that the unfamiliar and the unknown can be a powerful learning tool and leads to an increase in creativity and innovation.
Introducing aptitude testing into your recruitment function will have huge benefits. Eliminating unconscious bias is arguably the biggest.