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5 Ways To Overcome Unconscious Bias When Hiring

November 05, 2020 | Insights

We’ve all heard the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, but, as humans, it’s not always easy. In fact, sometimes our bias is so automatic we don’t even know it’s there.

Commonly known as ‘unconscious bias’, this is particularly problematic in a hiring sense. Why?  Because it leads to a workforce that’s lacking diversity and inclusion.

Unconscious bias in recruitment can take many forms. It can relate to age, race, gender, religion, sex and disability, to name a few. It can also relate to how well connected the recruiter feels with the job applicant on a personal level.

Without being consciously aware, a recruiter may be internally asking, Do I like this person? Do they have the same beliefs as me?  Could I see myself working with them?

Similarly, a recruiter’s overall perception of someone may be shaped and biased based on one positive trait, such as an applicant attending a certain educational institute or working within a certain organisation.  

So why is it important to overcome unconscious bias in recruitment?

Fostering a diverse workforce

Fostering a diverse workforce means successfully melding together a variety of skills, expertise, experience and cultures. The subsequent outcome is a workforce that’s happier, more creative, innovative and performs better.

In fact, research shows that companies who diversified their workforce experienced an increase in productivity. Hiring people from an underrepresented group has proven to be particularly beneficial.

For example, Australians with a disability are highly underrepresented in the workforce, with 53.4% labour force participation, compared to the 84.1% participation rate among Australians with no disability. 

However, the Australian Network on Disability (AND) reveals that 66% of employers who hire those with a disability experience clear business benefits, including a boost in workplace morale, greater customer satisfaction, and improved skillsets. 

Mature age workers also face ongoing discrimination and underemployment, often being perceived as less physically capable with inferior skills and abilities. As of March 2020, 180,500 people in the 45–64 age group were unemployed.

Yet, according to the Willing to Work report, a 7% increase in mature-age labour force participation would raise GDP in 2022 by approximately $25 billion.

So how can we overcome unconscious bias when hiring staff to make sure that recruitment is fair and discrimination free? 

Advertising wording and format

Consciously using inclusive language and unbiased wording regarding the likes of age, race, physical ability and gender means that your job advert will attract more diverse candidates.

Research shows that masculine language, such as "competitive" and "determined," results in women "perceiving that they would not belong in the work environment."

Similarly, adverts that are not clear and concise may discourage applicants with lower literacy levels, learning difficulties or dyslexia.

Alternative formats and fonts for reading accessibility are important, and offering various ways to submit an application, including video relay service, gives everyone an equal opportunity to apply.  

Advertising locations

Advertising in places that cater to diverse audiences opens up the advert to all.

Community noticeboards, disability or community magazines or networks, as well as websites and forums visited by underrepresented groups or dedicated to minorities are all good starting points.

Online videos are also a good way to reach a wide audience, and with exponential growth expected to continue, it’s the way of the future. Current forecasts predict that by 2021, 80% of all mobile internet traffic will be video, with nearly 1.9 billion internet video users.

Pre interview testing and blind resumes

Personality assessments or work sample tests prior to interview can help level the playing field for all candidates. A test looks at a person and their skills as an individual, rather than unconsciously judging them on appearance, gender, age or even personality.

Personality and work sample scores and test results do not differ because someone is in a minority group.

Blind resumes can also help eliminate unconscious bias. By removing names, ages and other identifying personal information, all candidates are reviewed fairly and objectively based on their knowledge skills and experience.

Create a fair interview process

Conducting a panel interview with a diverse set of colleagues can help mitigate any personal unconscious biases and give the candidate a fairer and increased chance of impressing different people.

While unstructured interview questions can be tempting, they’re not always effective. Plus unconscious bias can slip in if one colleague personally connects with a candidate, even if it’s only over a shared love of golf.

Structured questions ensure that every candidate is asked the same questions in the same way. As an additional bonus, structured interviews have proven to be twice as effective at predicting an employee’s performance once in the job. 

Educate staff

Many of us fear the unfamiliar and often stick with what we feel is ‘safe’. It’s no different when it comes to hiring. However, familiarising staff with different cultures or diverse groups can help overcome any prejudices and stereotypes, as well as discrimination.

Education can help staff value the skills and talent of a diverse workforce and training them in specific interview techniques can help put them at ease.

For example, training in relay calls with a candidate who is hard of hearing or working with a translation service for someone whose first language isn’t English.

One step at a time

While this offers a good overview of ways to overcome unconscious bias in the hiring process, this list is far from exhaustive.

There are many other ways that companies can eliminate bias, including outsourcing to hiring agencies, implementing a recruitment diversity policy and using AI technology.

Remember that any steps you choose to take towards eliminating unconscious bias will be positive ones. Steps that will improve your workforce, your company and your reputation. And no one can disagree with that.

Author - Frontline Human Resources


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