Being a part of the management is not a very easy task for it is not always easy to make sudden changes in direction, so proper long-term planning is essential to the success of a well- organized work culture. The primary goal is to strive for decisions based on reliable information, that are both fair and reliable in the long-term, without discriminating caste, creed, sex, age, or criminal, social and financial background. But, unfortunately, unconscious bias in hiring still continues to persist. While employers desire to look to qualifications and fitness for a role, it is common to subconsciously judge a candidate on unrelated qualities, such as age, gender, or physical appearance. A recent study found bias in resumes with “white-sounding” names where the applicants were 50% more likely to receive interview invitations than those with “African-American sounding” names, even when resumes were otherwise identical. A Columbia Business School study found hiring managers are twice as likely to hire a man for a STEM job due to biases that men are stereotypically thought to be more capable in math and science subject areas.
Hidden biases can be particularly dangerous in the hiring process as they may cause you to inadvertently dismiss a candidate in a manner that perpetuates certain stereotypes or otherwise unfairly excludes them. For example, it’s shown that people tend to gravitate toward others who are similar to themselves. This might seem fine until you consider the biases that creep into your hiring decisions when you unknowingly act on this phenomenon. The negative consequences of this issue of bias becomes even more pronounced when you consider research which suggests a workplace is more successful when individuals within the workplace are diverse in terms of backgrounds and perspectives.
What is the Psychology behind Unconscious Hiring Bias
A human brain is not capable of remembering and processing every detail of daily life. The brain avoids becoming overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people and information in the world by forming unconscious biases. Our brain is better at recognizing patterns than processing each unique experience, so it automates the process of organizing information into easily accessible forms. Or, to be exact, it’s much easier to group people, experiences, and cultures by their shared characteristics than to remember specifics. This is where the idea of subconscious bias comes from.
We meet someone, go with our gut instinct, and decide they’re a terrible or terrific prospective candidate, even if we don’t really have much evidence to back that up. Maybe you had a bad experience with dark-haired men, light-haired women, or even just Millennials. That can infect your ability to make fair decisions. We interpret our environments and situations differently; that’s why biases vary among individuals. There’s no one single source of information that leads to developing unconscious biases. Some sources include the atmosphere your company has while other biases stem from first impressions. All are disruptive and have the potential to be damaging.
Factors Contributing to Unconscious Hiring Bias in Workplace
It is assumed that hiring decisions are based solely on the professional skills and qualifications of each applicant. In practice, however, our decisions can be influenced by many other factors that we may not even be aware of. Following are some such factors
A Candidate Reminds You Of Someone You Had Bad Experience With
When a candidate presents him/herself in an interview, it is important to keep the job role in mind and remember exactly what tasks and responsibilities are expected of him/her. But sometimes we can be strangely captivated by a candidate because they are similar to us. This recruitment bias, which some associate with homophily, can occur when a recruiter and candidate share the same values, principles, educational background or other experiences, belief systems, and even personality traits.
A ‘Not so deep’ Evaluation of the Candidate
Part of recruiting means digging deeper and investigating through behavioral-based questions, role-playing, and reference checks. But when we’re in a hurry to fill a position, we may only see what we WANT to see in order to make that quick decision.
If a candidate has a fairly decent resume, is well-dressed and has presented himself well in an interview, some may refrain from exploring any further. Relying solely on appearances, what is on paper, and first impressions can, yet again, be another source of recruitment bias.
Discriminating on Grounds of Cultural Differences
Discriminating candidates based on cultural differences can be done both at the conscious and unconscious level. This is especially true in the interview process, where our society tends to favor those that are more extroverted, have good eye contact, open body language and who are more at ease in the spotlight and talking about themselves. In order to avoid this recruitment bias, you must avoid misreading someone’s cultural behavior as a weakness.
The Job Post is Unintentionally Portraying Favoritism
You may not be aware of it, but some job postings can be discriminatory. And although you are not someone who typically discriminates, it’s worth double-checking.
For example, your job post may read: “looking for a young, imaginative analyst”, but without realizing, you just performed age discrimination. It’s the difference between using “police officer” instead of “policeman” in order to avoid discriminating against women who want to apply for the job. So be watchful of this hiring bias, despite it being rather unconscious, when writing a job description.
Rejecting a candidate due to their personal choice
Imagine it was down to two candidates for the job; a male in his late 20’s and a female in her early 30’s. Both have the background required, but the female passed her technical tests with flying colors, and her personality profile was even more aligned with the expectations of the job. So easy decision, right? Unfortunately, not everyone’s analysis ends here.
Recruitment bias occurs when the professional overlooks a candidate, in this case, the female in her early 30’s, because she is put in the “will likely have kids and go on maternity leave” category.
Employers and HR professionals are actually not allowed to discriminate based on this or other personal choices a candidate might have made or will make in the future. So evaluate candidates based on skills, knowledge, experiences and natural character traits.
How Background Checks Reduce Unconscious Bias
Many of the sources of unconscious bias mentioned above arise from a lack of reliable information too few facts. Knowing an applicant’s employment history, credit status, criminal history, and drug screening results gives you the power to make rational decisions about their prospective future. When there are too many unknowns about a situation or an applicant, we tend to rely on our instincts and feelings instead; that can lead hirers down a bad path. Just because a candidate with the perfect resume seems a bad hire, does not mean he is. Do not take the risk of a liability suit; use background checks to rule out questionable decisions before they happen. It takes some of the emotion out of choice and forces you to think more analytically.
Following are some ways by which background verification can reduce hiring bias
Establish clear hiring criteria for every role
Standardized hiring criteria for every role is important for preventing hidden biases from influencing the hiring decision. These criteria should be modified within a rigorous framework involving Risk-Security, Legal and HR departments. A level playing field is only possible if all candidates are evaluated against the same standards with an established and agreed upon process.
Perform a comprehensive background check
When it comes to making your hiring selections, background screening can prove a useful tool for reducing your bias all the way down to selecting the final candidate. This can be achieved by taking a holistic look at your candidates and looking at the full extent of an individual’s background experience to evaluate them through an objective lens. This is particularly important after you’ve already met them in person, as it can help overcome initial impressions to paint a more complete picture about their fitness for a given role.
Involve a third-party background screening company.
There is the possibility of unintentional hiring bias if the hiring committee or hiring manager is also responsible for conducting the background screening process. Perhaps certain background screening fields are not as carefully scrutinized, or perhaps the hiring staff subconsciously evaluates a candidate’s background more favorably than others. To mitigate the potential for this bias, a third-party background screening company with no role in the hiring decision can provide valuable, objective insight. A third party can enable managers to assess candidates from a neutral, fresh perspective by returning reports that are comprehensive and void of any pre-existing judgments.
Believe more on facts and less on intuition
Data tied to a candidate’s qualifications should be assessed objectively, not subjectively. This is sometimes easier said than done, especially if the hiring staff has a personal affinity towards aspects of a candidate that shouldn’t factor into the hiring decision, which could bias them to prefer a lesser qualified individual.
Reliable business decisions can create positive or negative influences, stripping the decision back to the facts. It’s hard to feel your candidate looks like a criminal when you have his clean criminal record right in front of you. Each state has unique background check legislation and federal guidelines. Once you do, verifying your own ideas about candidates becomes so much easier. Hidden biases can certainly creep into your hiring process, but they don’t have to. Hiring managers can proactively put in place processes to reduce the risk of biases playing an influential role in hiring decisions. By enabling hiring staff to focus on the facts, rather than subjective interpretations about a candidate’s qualifications, background screening can equip companies with the data required to make the most informed hiring decisions.
cFIRST Think Tank is the team that researches and produces content for cFirst. This team comprises of seasoned content and digital design professionals and background screening industry veterans. Together we produce insightful blogs, infographics and reports meant for HR and background screening professionals.