In an ideal world, the only factor a candidate would be assessed on would be their ability to get the job done. Unfortunately, whether we realize it or not, we use pre-existing judgements to make quick decisions.  

This is what’s known as unconscious bias, and in recruiting it means forming an opinion about a potential candidate based on factors unrelated to their abilities. Unconscious hiring bias can occur when recruiters are able to identify personal information about a candidate, such as gender, race, or age, through resume details or job applications. This bias may cause candidates to be passed over, despite being highly qualified. On the flip side, certain pieces of information might have the opposite effect and give candidates an unfair advantage in the application process.  

 

What happens when you let unconscious bias get in the way of hiring decisions without realizing it? 

Biased recruitment can be detrimental to the overall success of an organization and research shows that a lack of diversity hinders business growth. A study by McKinsey revealed that businesses with higher gender and ethnic diversity performed 25% better than competitors, seeing financial returns above industry medians.  

Though having diverse teams doesn’t automatically result in high performance, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Companies that have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion tend to have more success with their new hires in the long run, improving their ability to hire and retain top talent in today’s competitive job market. 

Unconscious bias has a negative impact on business performance and culture, which is why it’s so important to identify it when it happens and adopt diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) practices throughout your organization. We’ve put together four strategies that you can use to ensure that recruitment bias isn’t getting in the way when it comes to your search for new hires. 

 

1. Commit to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging training  

The first step in reducing bias in recruiting is to understand what unconscious bias is and to commit to ongoing training for your organization. “The key to eliminating unconscious bias is to acknowledge it even exists,” says InFlight’s HR Manager, Yvonne Stoll.  

While it is difficult to completely eliminate bias, you can start by helping your team become more aware of what bias looks like, how it happens, and what to do when it happens.  

Having your recruiting and hiring teams undergo DEIB training is crucial, as it can help them better understand personal biases that they may have. After all, people who are aware of their biases are much better equipped to deal with them if they do arise.  

DEIB training for recruiters involves establishing clear communications with your HR team about the ways in which you hire, how you emphasize equity in all aspects of your recruitment process, and implementing both team and self-assessments. For example, LinkedIn uses a mix of self-assessment, self-paced content, and group practice sessions followed by one-on-one meetings with managers to help their recruiters become diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging champions. 

 

2. Ensure that your recruiting team is as diverse as the candidates you seek 

Having a diverse group of recruiters is another way you can ensure that any recruiting bias is being tackled. “Inclusivity is key,” Stoll continues. “Having a recruiting process that minimizes conscious and unconscious bias is lost effort if the work environment is not inclusive.” Not only does it give applicants a sense of comfort to see others like themselves, but it also reinforces your company’s commitment to diversity. Creating a diverse hiring committee with a unique set of perspectives can help yield an inclusive, open-minded hiring process that can also support your internal training efforts.

 

3. Remove biased language from your job descriptions  

So, you’ve committed to training and have a diverse hiring team in place, but you’re finding that your applicant pool isn’t as diverse as it should be. If you step back and look at the root of the problem, you might realize that your job descriptions are turning candidates away before they even submit an application.  

Biased language in job applications might be misinterpreted as simply wanting to hire the most qualified candidates, but it can often discourage certain pools of candidates from applying. Take gender bias, for example: though 57% of the workforce is female, women make up only 24% of C-suite positions in the U.S.  

While the immediate assumption may be that this is a result of biased recruiters, this is not always the case. If you look closely, you might find that your job descriptions contain strong statements or keywords that could be leading underrepresented groups to believe that they are unqualified or unfit for the role.  

In certain positions, particularly as you move higher up in a company, it can be necessary to display skills such as assertiveness or competitiveness. However, women with the same level of qualifications as their male counterparts are much less likely to apply to positions where it is obvious that the role is usually filled by a male, and that is often the case when job descriptions contain so many of what are traditionally considered masculine qualities.   

Similarly, something as simple as choosing the job title “Chairman” over “Chairperson” may result in the majority of your applicants being exactly what you called for – men. Adjusting the language you use to be neutral is a small, but effective change that ensures you’re not unknowingly driving away qualified talent. 

Sometimes, bias in job descriptions can be harder to identify. Unconscious bias could look like using the terms “his/her” rather than “their”, which can be exclusionary for members of the LGBTQ community, or words like “tech-savvy” and “energetic”, which might turn away older applicants.  

Biased words are often overlooked when creating job descriptions, but they have a significant impact on the way a potential candidate perceives your company culture and how they might fit into it. “There’s bias in our tactics,” says Katrina Kibben, CEO and founder of Three Ears Media. “We’re sending signals whether we know it or not.”  

Using neutral language to the best of your abilities will make your job descriptions much more inclusionary and increase the likelihood of attracting a diverse talent pool.  

 

4. Mitigate bias during resume screening with data masking  

Recruiting bias also frequently occurs at the initial stage of the application review  the resume screening phase. Unconscious bias in hiring can be as small as a recruiter being more likely to interview one candidate over another simply because they attended the same educational institution or grew up in the same city. This is referred to as the halo effect –  a cognitive bias where we allow one positive trait to influence our view of a candidate and how we judge them in unrelated areas. 

When we consider that the average hiring manager only spends six to seven seconds scanning a resume, it’s clear that recruiting bias can make or break a qualified candidate’s chances at getting a call back. You can help mitigate several types of bias in hiring by making process adjustments, such as implementing data masking, which hides candidate information like their age, race, gender, school, or name that could influence the selection process.  

InFlight’s Candidate Data Masking solution integrates with your existing applicant tracking system (ATS) and redacts candidate information that isn’t directly related to their ability to perform so your recruiters can focus solely on credentials, experience, and skills. It’s also completely customizable, so your team can choose what data to keep hidden and when to hide it. If you need candidate information later in the hiring process, you can choose to make the information visible again.  

Watch our candidate data masking webinar to see how a client used data-masking as part of their DEI strategy for hiring hard to fill roles

Workplace diversity helps your organization grow 

Diversity in the workplace is key – it drives success, belonging, and innovation by bringing forth new viewpoints and cultural perspectives that are imperative to growing your business.   

Instead of focusing on who you need the next time you have a role to fill, think about the skills and competencies that you want to bring to your team. Always keep an open mind, not only when it comes to the candidates you hire and the ways they are assessed, but also to how you’re showcasing your job openings to them in the first place. 

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