3 Steps in the Hiring Process Where Unconscious Bias Runs Rampant

Sabrina Son

Diversity and inclusivity aren’t just buzzwords. When businesses hire a diverse workforce (race, ethnicity, age, gender, etc), they reap the benefits of diverse ideas, leading to more innovations. Not only that, but businesses with a diverse workforce are more appealing to candidates and tend to outperform their competitors in terms of revenue. A study by McKinsey & Company found that companies with the most ethnically/culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to experience higher profits.

While it’s easy for any business to talk about diversity and inclusivity, it’s another thing for them to actually practice it. One of the biggest barriers to hiring a diverse workforce is unconscious bias, which is the bias that occurs without our brains even knowing (hint hint: it’s why it’s called ‘unconscious’). Unconscious bias influences our brain to make snap judgements about people based on our own experiences. Because of these snap judgements, we risk losing out on the opportunity to engage with or hire specific candidates who may have been more than qualified for the job. In this post, we’ll look at 3 steps in the hiring process where unconscious bias is more common than you may think.

1. Job description

Biases starts in the job description, which has now become so institutionalized that many businesses overlook this factor when trying to eliminate unconscious bias from their hiring process. For example, “Master/Slave” was a common term used in job descriptions for developers, but the majority of businesses have replaced that term with something else such as “Primary/Replica.”

Other examples include job descriptions with titles such as “salesman” or “crew man,” which can make non-male candidates feel like they wouldn’t fit in with the role. To make your job titles more inclusive, look for alternative phrases such as “sales rep” or “crew member.” You’ll be surprised as to how easily unconscious bias slips into job descriptions, so before posting the open rec, think about having 1 or 2 additional people review the copy to see how they interpret the words.

2. Screening

A study published in the Administrative Science Quarterly called “Whitened Resumes: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor,” found that:

  • 25% of Black candidates received callbacks from their whitened resumes
  • 10% of Black candidates received callbacks when they left ethnic details intact
  • 21% of Asian candidates received callbacks from their whitened resumes
  • 11.5% of Asian candidates received callbacks when they left ethnic details intact

One way to remove unconscious bias from the screening process is through automation with conversational AI. Using a set of predefined questions, conversational AI is designed to remove personal bias and levels the playing field. So rather than focusing on the candidate’s name, gender, or age, conversational AI will focus on the candidate’s skills and experiences. This not only helps reduce the workload on recruiters, it also makes sure your business engages with every single candidate that comes through so that the best and most qualified candidates are moved along in the process.

3. Interview loop

Interview loops are the one step in the hiring process that can’t be automated—and frankly, they shouldn’t because you want to meet the people you will potentially be working with.

To help remove unconscious bias from interviews, have interviewers go through training first to learn about unconscious bias. Spreading awareness of unconscious bias is the key to tackling it. Next, select a diverse cast of interviewers so that you can gather a diverse set of feedback. Similar to the screening process, make sure the interviewers only use a standard set of questions so that interviewers don’t stray and form their own biases. These steps will make the interview process more structured, ensuring that assessments are kept consistent.

Unconscious bias can make their way into any part of our lives. It’s usually not until someone points it out that we become aware of our biases. To help eliminate unconscious bias in the hiring process, think about carefully reviewing the words in your job description, leveraging conversational AI to do blind screens, and having a structured interview process to aim for consistent assessments.

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