We all have unconscious bias. Here’s how to eliminate it in hiring.

Unconscious bias is now under the spotlight, especially when it comes to race. Despite your best intentions, several biases can occur in the workplace, undermining efforts to improve diversity when hiring. You should know what unconscious bias can mean for hiring practices to defeat these hidden prejudices. 

What Is Unconscious Bias? 

Several organizations across the US are committed to reducing unconscious bias in the workplace. Here’s how a University of North Carolina business school professor describes it: “Unconscious biases are prejudices we are not aware of” (McCormick, 2015). 

Types of biases 

Unconscious bias is directed to a person’s individual characteristics that could include, though is not exclusive, to the following (Wilkie, 2014): 

  • Skin color
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Disability status
  • College attended
  • Accent 
  • Introverted or extroverted

A case involving a Hispanic man named Alejandro was tried in court based on the theory of unconscious bias (Lee, 2005). Alejandro had repeatedly asked for a promotion at a large retail store, where he worked for several years in sales and was highly regarded. Yet each time, he was passed up for a white candidate with less relevant experience. Finally, he was fired for alleged fraud, though he did not receive a warning beforehand. In the past, however, a white employee in a similar circumstance had received a warning before she was terminated. 

As in Alejandro’s case, there is substantial evidence of unconscious bias (also referred to as implicit bias) occurring in America’s companies and organizations. Many different groups of people such as women or minorities are not given an equal place at the table, even if they are just as qualified as majority groups. 

The previous list is not exhaustive by any means: There are many traits that people hold biases around. Naturally, these biases can creep into the workplace and impact important decisions– for example, through the hiring or promotion process. More examples of unconscious bias and its impact on the workplace are described below. 

Forms of unconscious bias that can impact hiring 

One of the most commonly cited examples of unconscious bias with regards to race is the resume study, where White-sounding names on fictitious resumes got 50% more callbacks than resumes with African-American sounding names. What’s alarming is that there are many more ways that unconscious bias can permeate hiring practices.

Here are some examples of how unconscious bias may surface during hiring: 

  • Affinity bias: Having a more favorable opinion of someone who resembles you. This can mean hiring someone who attended the same school as you, who speaks the same language, or who is the same race or gender as you. 
  • Confirmation bias: A tendency to search for or favor views or opinions that most closely match your own. For example, confirmation bias can show up in hiring, when you already favor the candidate and simply ask them questions that reinforce your belief, while disregarding more critical questions.
  • Perception bias: People’s belief in stereotypes about other groups that make it hard to be objective when making decisions about members in those groups. This can be seen when first impressions have a lasting effect on work behavior, especially in job interviews.
  • Halo effect: When someone extends their overall impression of a person to an individual characteristic. This can happen if someone whom you think is a good leader, for example, may bias you to assume they are also a good team player.   

Though unconscious bias may take many forms in the workplace, there are ways to combat it. Specific aspects of unconscious bias can be reduced, as seen in this study, where implicit bias against homosexuals was seen to decline by 13% from 2006 to 2013. 

Tackling Unconscious Biases in Hiring

Subtle prejudices permeate everyday life. There are, however, real solutions to the problem of implicit bias and ways to lessen its impact during the hiring process. 

Here are some methods you should consider to reduce unconscious bias in the hiring process: 

Holding awareness training: Certain workshops (though not all) can have a major impact on breaking the habits of unconscious bias. The psychologist Patricia Devine, whose research introduced the concept of implicit racial bias, was quoted in the Atlantic, saying that “you have to be aware of [the unconscious bias habit], motivated to change, and have a strategy for replacing it.” She says that “‘prejudice is a habit that can be broken.’” 

After Devine gave a workshop on gender bias at the University of Wisconsin, the proportion of women faculty who were hired grew by almost 50%. 

Creating structured processes: According to the Executive Development program at the University of North Carolina’s business school, HR and senior leadership should develop structures for resume screening, interviewing format, and decision making on candidates. 

Improving existing processes: A best practice for companies is to audit their current hiring processes throughout its life cycle, such as resume screening, interviewing, onboarding, and mentoring (Ross, 2018). Asking current and former employees about their experiences with implicit bias is also valuable. 

Our solution: Censia Talent Intelligence 

Our solution, the AI-powered Censia Talent Intelligence platform, can help you improve your existing hiring practices and create a structure that overcomes unconscious bias. Censia uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, and predictive analysis to create a model of a successful candidate. This model is applied to a proprietary data platform, and the technology removes identifying information such as race, gender, age, or profile picture. You’ll receive a ranked shortlist of candidates to evaluate, based on merit. 

In review: What unconscious bias means for hiring

Unconscious bias to traits such as national origin, gender identity, age, disability status, and more can promote discrimination of certain groups and limit your team’s ability to hire diverse candidates. Though implicit bias can result in managers hiring candidates who are similar to them or who they favor, these kinds of habits can be broken. 

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