Submitted by William Beaumo… on Mon, 09/05/2022 - 15:07

myGwork spoke to Kira Van Niekerk, Global Lead - Training & Enablement at Thomas International, about inclusive hiring and how you can beat unconscious bias in recruitment.

Hi Kira! Thanks for chatting with us. Why does diversity in the workplace matter to you?

Diversity is a business imperative. Beyond the obvious moral argument, Top companies for diversity are more likely to financially outperform industry averages (McKinsey). PwC has also found that a company’s level of diversity is fundamental for talent attraction, with 80% of job seekers considering this. The global labour shortage and ‘Great Resignation’ have intensified competition for talent, yet organisations are still failing to hire diverse candidates. What’s going wrong?

Why doesn't diversity recruiting work?

It takes just 0.1 seconds for the brain to form an opinion about someone. This means that regardless of your conscious intentions, your recruitment decisions are likely to be skewed by unconscious bias. For companies looking to reap the benefits of workforce diversity, the challenge is that biases are largely unconscious and, therefore, hard to remove. What’s more, a tiny bias can have huge implications, especially for companies that are hiring at scale. According to research by Oregon State University, as little as a 1% gender bias in recruitment can result in 32 failed hires and a £2.3 million annual loss in productivity for firms recruiting 8,000 employees a year.

Does culture fit constrain diversity?

Many companies seek to hire individuals who are aligned with their mission, culture and values. Though seemingly innocuous, hiring for ‘complementary fit’ risks “cookie cutter” recruitment decisions that can inhibit problem-solving, innovation and ultimately profitability. It is therefore crucial that hiring decisions based on complementary fit are made irrespective of demographic background in order to avoid constraining diversity. To this end, companies are increasingly seeking out divergent traits that bring new perspectives. This is called hiring for ‘supplementary fit’. Creativity, innovation and problem-solving are likely to flourish in this hiring environment, but conflict may increase as well and must therefore be managed constructively.

What are the most common kinds of bias in recruiting?

Psychologists study how cognitive biases shape and often distort the way we perceive the world. In uncertain situations such as recruitment decisions, biases are more likely to distort our perceptions. One kind of bias that often affects organisations where the ethos is to hire people who are a good “culture fit” is affinity bias. Due to the tendency to favour those who are most like us, hiring managers in organisations with this hiring policy are especially at risk of “hiring in their image”. Affinity bias means that if an interviewee is like us, we are more inclined to hire them, regardless of their capabilities relative to other candidates or their suitability for the role.

The tendency to gather evidence that confirms pre-existing expectations is known as ‘confirmation bias’, and typically involves emphasising supporting evidence whilst omitting contradictory evidence. This means that preconceived notions about the competencies of different social groups could rule out the best job applicants, disadvantaging both candidate and company. ‘Halo effect’ is another common form of cognitive bias in recruitment. The Halo effect is the tendency for our overall impression of a person to influence how we view their character and abilities. If your initial impression is that someone is friendly or confident, you are more likely to assume that they are also good at their job, regardless of their objective capability.

How to beat unconscious bias in recruitment?

At the end of 2020, unconscious bias training was scrapped for British civil servants due to a lack of evidence that it improved workplace diversity. 45% of employers say their recruitment tools are ineffective at securing diverse talent (Robert Walters), and 67% of recruitment managers say that CVs are a poor indicator of future success (Cranfield School of Management). However, there are tools that recruiters can use to increase objectivity in hiring decisions and boost workforce diversity.

Blind CVs can be helpful for minimising confirmation bias relating to age, race and gender. For example, Diversity for Social Impact research showed that blind CVs lead to five times as many women being selected. However, perceptions of prestigious education or work experience can still bias a recruiter. Vitally, creating a role profile that includes key behavioural traits and competencies at the outset of the process provides an objective point of comparison. Using psychometric assessments in hiring provides hiring managers with an objective measure of candidate suitability that isn’t skewed by access or social privilege.

Some of the most revealing areas to measure are candidates’ speed of learning and personality, which have both been shown to be more reliable predictors of future performance than CVs (MacCrae & Furnham). In today’s fast-paced work environment, a candidates’ speed of learning is a key success factor.  Rather than relying on ‘gut feel’ and risking affinity, confirmation or halo bias, a Workplace Personality, or ‘High Potential Trait Indicator’ assessment can also provide a scientific measure of a candidate’s level of the traits shown to have the greatest bearing on professional success. An awareness of psychological factors can also help hiring managers to probe beneath candidates’ surface characteristics at interview and explore their suitability at more depth.

To find out more about the top five biases that affect recruitment decisions - and how to beat them - download Thomas International’s free guide to Beating Unconscious Bias in Recruitment.