How To Remove Unconscious Bias From Your Recruitment Process

5 November 2020
9 minute
How To Remove Unconscious Bias From Your Recruitment Process

Every company wants to hire the best person for the role, but could unconscious bias be getting in the way?

Companies who struggle to recruit for diversity in the workplace may be doing so because of unconscious bias in the recruitment process or simply an ability to open the talent pool despite new processes that are available to all businesses - but are commonly still unused.

We're going to look at how to remove bias from the recruitment process and what can be done to increase diversity in the workplace.

We all have our own unconscious biases –  we may not even know about them, but it’s just human nature. However, when it comes to finding the best new talent for your business, bias can cause issues. Taking action to build inclusive workplaces is a way to build a strong identity within your organisation, opening up your business to new perspectives, opportunities and creating balance within the organization as a whole.

Diversity in the workplace is a common goal that we should all be working towards; however, it is not uncommon to find that businesses, from senior management to entry levels can have issues with diversity in the workplace. This can be predicated primarily on assumptions which need addressing and re-educating out of the work system or, in other cases, it could be real life examples that have led to this level of thinking.

Disadvantages which result from bias include:

  • Communication issues
  • Too many opinions being voiced
  •  Hostility towards others
  •  Implementation challenges
  • Retaining poor talent

There are, of course, plenty of reasons for bias in the workplace. Whilst these are sometimes singular (i.e. based on role) they're usually a combination of factors that we unconsciously apply when making selections in recruitment.

Those biases include things such as gender identity, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and can greatly limit the talent pool available to the organisation when these unconscious biases are allowed to affect the recruitment process.

The first step in correcting these biases starts with your recruitment process and making corrections where needed.

Taking action to build inclusive workplaces

Being able to provide a workplace that is inclusive and demonstrates a proactive selection of talent from all corners of the recruitment pond demonstrates organisational strength and a clear path to move forwards in organisational terms.

Providing a workplace that causes employees to feel accepted and valued because of the work they produce rather than who they are makes the business an aspiring workplace. When employees feel accepted and valued, they are more likely to stay with the business, champion causes and the work, increasing the talent pool for others to see and helping to foster a great company reputation to those on the outside looking in.

Being able to take a step back to ask what makes a great business and answering “great employees” should indicate that it's the people in the roles that make all the difference. Diversity helps to open up the talent pool, providing different perspectives and fostering greater inclusion at a business level which permeates wider culture as well.

It starts with changing the recruitment process and moving from there. We’re going to take a look at the different actions that you can use to help remove bias from your recruitment process.

Adjust how you screen and search for candidates

There are lots of ways that businesses can find candidates. Traditional to digital recruitment structures are the preferred methods for many businesses but, to increase diversity there are other steps which you can take to help open up the talent pool and build structures that work for all the parties involved.

Job descriptions

Be sure to write compelling job descriptions that target competencies and desired skills over the use of jargon-led titles. Be sure to include elements such as wage, benefits and company goals and strategic mission. This shows where the business wants to be and openly states that you are an equal jobs opportunity recruiter. The Thomas platform can be used to build an objective, clear job profile and provide a basis for your job description.

Job boards

Be sure to select online platforms to promote the job posting. You want to increase your potential of candidates by going onto platforms that may not be traditionally considered and using sites such as LinkedIn to expand your search in different communities.

Develop an applicant tracking system (ATS)

This can be an off-the-shelf solution which pools together candidates for the advertised role into a database. BetterTeam advises that you consider an ATS as an “applicant screening tool that allows you to screen prospective employees for information about their background, education, and personal details, ensuring that their information matches up with the information in their CV.”

Ask internally

One of the keys to expanding your talent pool is to ask internally. Recommendations from those within the business will already have an advantage of the candidate being up to speed with the company culture and thus putting forward someone who would best fit that role and description.

Blind applications and a bigger recruitment pool

One of the best ways to ensure that screening is taken seriously and conducted with the applicants best interests at heart is to incorporate blind applications.

Recruiterbox define blind applications as “the process of removing any and all identification details from your candidates’ resumes and applications. It helps your hiring team evaluate people on their skills and experience instead of factors that can lead to biased decisions.”

By removing the elements which cause unconscious bias such as, gender, race, age, religion, disability and sexual orientation at the application stage, you're creating a wider recruitment pool to select candidates from. Software can automatically redact information and stop the screeners in human resources from making the kinds of decisions that create this unconscious bias.

A good organisation may use these online tools - which aren’t infallible - or they may wish to go about doing it in a different way. Perhaps getting a third party (internal or external) to sift through each CV and redact information, highlighting skills and then presenting these to managers to see which ones they want to take forward, making decisions based on that information alone.

Not all blind recruitment is the same and not all industries can take this on board. There are, as with everything, limitations.

Studies from Harvard Business Review have shown that total blind recruitment (which is all details redacted bar skills) only increases diversity by 4% whilst another study from Yale university stated that there was a 7% drop in diversity in specific creative industries. It also goes to back some of the disadvantages of blind recruitment which include things such as:

  • Preventing a candidate’s personality from coming through
  • It's harder to distinguish if a candidate will fit culturally into the business
  • Could disrupt the total diversity goal

There are some businesses who have however started to introduce partial blind recruitment (redacting names) to their whole process. These businesses include the BBC, HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money, KPMG as well the UK civil service as part of a push to develop greater diversity within the recruitment process.

Ensuring online assessments and access to interviews are fair and inclusive

When conducting online assessments for new roles, the stages as highlighted earlier are your starting blocks but, there are always more factors to consider.

When switching from in-person to virtual assessments, you must ascertain if it's compare assessed candidates in-person with those assessed remotely. Understand that you will be asking yourself throughout the whole process if it's possible to hire with fairness and without bias? Also, how can you show the human side of the business when creating assessments and interviews online?

A way to answer this would be to create a strategy that HR teams can follow to minimise the impact on talent needs, mitigate risks and demonstrate business continuity. It’s not about slotting people who aren't used to this style of recruitment to fill the gaps here, but empowering those who understand this new process and letting them run the recruitment drive. Once decided it is then down to the types of assessments that are required to hire the talent needed.

The steps taken here will make sure that the recruitment process is fair and inclusive to all interested parties.

Ensure virtual assessments compare well with face-to-face assessments

Whilst meeting someone is important doing this face-to-face or virtually can be comparable, especially if the right objective measurements are in place to differentiate between candidates and ensure they will fit and can be successful. It’s wise to trial and validate, just like a ‘normal’ assessment process.

Fair and unbiased virtual recruitment

Video assessments and workplace personality tests can be better at mitigating biases than many face-to-face interviews, providing objectivity to recruit better and more diverse talent, whilst improving social mobility and reducing geographic issues. Tests can be designed to help candidates with disabilities answer questions with speech technology whilst natural language processing AI helps interviewers focus on speech-to-text only answers. Another advantage is that assessors can score at a time that suits them, giving them more time to assess properly and not be rushed into a decision.

Being able to improve diversity in the workplace is not only a moral duty but one that can bring new possibilities, perspectives and ways of thinking that would be otherwise closed to many businesses for the future.

By recruiting with conscious bias over the years, businesses have been limiting their talent pool and closing the door to many candidates who could have fulfilled the role advertised and potentially brought new ideas which may not have been considered.

Technology can help HR departments and managers to remove bias and develop the talent pool by helping to blind recruit in this new age of recruitment. Implementing video conferencing and using online assessment tools will help businesses manage their recruitment needs and select candidates based on their skills and level of experience over other attributes.

Be sure to continue telling your story in the whole process to demonstrate the cultural aspect of your business and showcase the diversity of recruitment you are aiming for in your corporate comms to back up your new recruitment drive.

Remove unconscious bias from your decision making with Thomas

A lack of diversity in your workforce and unconscious bias in your decision making processes is harmful to your business can prevent you from hiring and keeping genuine talent. Our talent assessment platform can help you to increase the diversity of your workforce and reduce unconscious bias in your decision making processes.

Alternatively, check out our Rethinking Diversity whitepaper which explores what diversity truly means and the benefits that a diverse workforce can have on a company’s performance. Our whitepaper about Women in Business also highlights the need to improve gender diversity in the workplace, particularly at the senior level, and what steps can be taken to create a bias-free recruitment and development strategy.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you address unconscious bias and increase the diversity of your workplace, please speak to one of our team.

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