Is unconscious bias blurring recruiter mindsets?

Charles Hipps explains the most common bias traps businesses fall for when hiring

In recruitment, two things to avoid are adverse impact and bias. Employers are not allowed to apply any requirement or condition that disadvantages people or makes them ineligible for a job without a justifiable reason, as this could constitute discrimination.

Bias, simply put, is a person’s inclination or prejudice against another person or group of people. Unconscious biases are the prejudices every human has and acts on without thinking or malicious intent. Instinctively, people tend to like those they align with most. Sometimes that alignment is racial or gendered. Sometimes it is personality-based.

Here are a few of the most common forms of unconscious hiring bias to watch out for:

Conformity bias – Like peer pressure and groupthink, this bias occurs when an individual follows the majority, ignoring their own opinions. In recruiting, conformity bias might surface in a panel interview where individuals hesitate to voice their thoughts for fear of disagreeing with the majority.

Halo/horns effect – This hiring bias occurs when one aspect of a candidate or their resume becomes the foundation of the analysis of the individual. For example, pushing for an unfit candidate because they participated in a specific fellowship or assessing a fit candidate as unfit because they went to a certain college.

Affinity and similarity bias – These are some of the most common forms of unconscious hiring bias. Affinity bias occurs when a recruiter favours a candidate because he has shared traits. This could be attending the same college, growing up in the same city or simply reminding them of someone they like. Similarity bias occurs when the recruiter sees themselves within the candidate and is more open to pursuing their employment because of it.

Contrast effect – Common for recruiters sifting through resumes, this bias takes place when the recruiter or interviewer has multiple people or applications to compare. Naturally, instead of considering the individuals on their own merit, the interviewer uses another individual’s skills and attributes to make decisions on the next person.

Beauty bias – As the name suggests, this bias is rooted in external appearance. If the recruiter or interviewer believes the more handsome individual will be most successful, they might suffer from beauty bias. On the other hand, when someone who is more traditionally attractive is hindered by their appearance  – especially in the case of women – this is considered the ‘bimbo effect’.

Conformity bias #2 – When a recruiter or interviewer makes assessments to support their initial beliefs of the candidate, they are falling for conformity bias. For example, if a recruiter has decided that a candidate will fit well within the company, they might overlook warning signs to back up their first impression.

Unless carefully monitored, these biases can lead to a vicious cycle, reproducing already established patterns of under-representation and further ingraining bias against already disadvantaged groups, such as older and disabled workers, women and ethnic minorities.

To avoid hiring biases, an increasing number of organisations are using blind hiring strategies. Used wisely, these can lead to impartial selection, personal bias removal, gender parity, workplace diversity and the development of a skills-based meritocratic organisation.

Charles Hipps is chief executive and founder of WCN

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