By Lina Arshad
Bias in recruitment is somewhat of a taboo subject. Not many of us are willing to admit we may have been biased towards or against something, because, quite simply, it shows that we’ve let something other than logic and reason interfere with our thinking process. And while it can be harmful to others in a variety of settings, when we let bias take charge in the workplace, it can make us look unprofessional and unfair. Plus, it can undo any diversity and inclusion best practices you’ve implemented so far, as well as having a wider knock-on effect on the Microsoft ecosystem.
There are also more subtle, and even perhaps overlooked consequences of bias in the workplace. Especially in the long-run, bias can disrupt many of your workplace operations, from your ideation sessions to project collaborations and can mean those who deserve reward and praise, often don’t get it. This in turn is detrimental to the happiness of the employees who are victims of the bias but it can also be unsettling for other members of staff who are witnessing the unfair treatment.
Diversity and inclusivity are the words on everybody’s lips recently, and given the industry is already under so much additional pressure from the Great Resignation and the digital skills gap, building a diverse team can help your business success significantly.
That being said, what some people don’t realize about bias is that it can lurk in the back of your thoughts, and you can make judgements based on things you unconsciously think, rather than something you are actively aware of. However, by acknowledging these thoughts and feelings, and by being comfortable enough to challenge our own decisions, we cane nsure we’re making fair, honest judgements that aren’t tainted with bias.
In this blog, we’ll be exploring the different types of bias that can occur at work, and five ways we can eliminate these from seeping into the recruitment process.
There are many types of workplace bias that can occur, with some being more well-known than others. Confirmation bias, similarity-attraction bias, affinity bias and the contrast effect are among the most prevalent types, with others including conformity bias, name bias, and the halo and horns effect more difficult to identify.
We will be touching on the most recurrent workplace biases below.
As much as we’d all like to think we’re impartial to all people and situations, all humans have pre-existing beliefs and principles that affect their judgement. This sort of bias refers to the tendency we have to search for or be partial to information that confirms pre-existing beliefs we have about a group of people.
In an interview setting, this can look like seeking out information that confirms your belief that a candidate is a perfect fit for the job and ignoring any information contrary to that belief.
This type of bias is slightly more difficult to identify and refers to how sometimes, we will look positively at someone who we share something in common with.
During the hiring process, this can mean yourself or your hiring managers are more likely to implement bias in the recruitment and selection if someone who looks like them, or has the same hobbies or similarities to them, walks through the door.
Our connections are what bond us to other people, and while it’s great to build relationships, it can often cause bias. Affinity bias refers to a predisposition we have to gravitate towards people who we share a connection with. This can mean we learn to push people away or block out people who are different to us.
This can become a particular problem when it means employees at work are more likely to be given opportunities, promotions, or pay rises just because they have a connection with you, over other employees who deserve it more. Of course, having a connection with someone is a wonderful thing, but it’s crucial to recognize when these are getting in the way and biasing your decision-making.
The contrast effect is the most harmful type of bias that can happen in the workplace as it causes you to compare candidates to each other rather than making your hiring decision based on the individual personal and professional skills each applicant has.
For example, say you were interviewing three candidates; one who was adequate, one who was good, and one who was excellent. If you interviewed the excellent candidate first, there’s a high chance you’ll then mark the others far lower than you would have if you had interviewed them first, because you have the excellent candidate to benchmark them against. So, even though a good candidate’s experience and knowledge doesn’t actually change, you will still score them differently due to comparison.
As humans, we all have a desire to be liked and sometimes this means we succumb to something called groupthink. This refers to how when we are with other people, we tend to agree with the views, beliefs, and ideas held by the group. By giving into pressure and allowing others to affect your decisions, you become victim to conformity bias.
The most effective way to recognize conformity bias is to see whether you find yourself second-guessing your ideas based on what others have said about certain situations or people. This is why it’s a good idea, if you’re telling your team that you’ll be hiring or are looking to interview someone for a position, that you don’t disclose name or any factors they could make judgements about. Doing so could mean you go into the interview with pre-conceived ideas curated by your team.
Our first and last names hold connotations about us, and unfortunately this can include stereotypes and clichés in which people can make judgements about us based on. This can be a common type of bias which appears when hiring managers are reviewing resumes, which is why it’s a good idea to engage in blind recruitment where any identifiers that could cause a bias against a candidate e.g., name, gender, location, should be removed.
The halo effect refers to how some people will allow a positive impression of someone to take precedence over any other judgements of them which don’t fit into this. For example, if you had a candidate that did a lot of charity work for an organization that is close to your heart, you may be more likely to overlook any negatives on their resume such as poor grades or lack of experience.
On the reverse side, the horns effect refers to the tendency to only focus on the negatives of a person, instead of also considering all the other things that make them a great candidate for the role.
Unconscious bias in recruitment can be detrimental to your professional reputation, but also to the company’s. Plus, it can often mean you hire the wrong person for the role based on judgements you’ve made subconsciously that don’t have all that much to do with someone’s skill set or the experience they have for the job. And given that Zippia found that a single bad hire can cost companies an average of $14,900, it’s crucial that you’re not letting bias rule your decisions and prevent you from making the right one.
Eliminating bias isn’t just a one-time action—it’s something you have to constantly do if you truly want to help beat inequality and discrimination within the Microsoft ecosystem, and the wider tech industry. So, it’s important to know how to eliminate bias at all stages of the recruitment process.
And this doesn’t just apply if you’ve already noticed bias seeping into your hiring process. It’s also useful to implement as diversity and inclusion best practice guidance for your business, even if you’ve never had an issue with bias before—and will help to keep it that way.
Here are five ways you can do just that.
Just like anything, before you can begin taking action against bias, you need to properly understand what it is, where it’s likely to occur, and why. And while we hope you’ve learnt lots from this article so far, recruitment bias is a complex, multi-faceted thing, so there’s plenty more to learn about.
If you don’t believe you or your business have sufficient knowledge about this, we’d highly recommend undergoing a training course that can at the very least, help you to develop a sound understanding of bias and possibly a more advanced version of that, too. This could be an online course you have your workforce complete during their learning and development time, or you could even look to partner with an entity that specializes in diversity training. Although this will be a must for anyone who will be involved in recruitment decision-making, such as hiring managers and interviewers, extending this training to all team members will help to eliminate bias in your workforce, meaning you’re educating and protecting people at all levels.
Awareness training can be quite nerve-wracking and it’s likely your employees may not feel comfortable giving examples of times they believe they’ve let bias lead their decisions, so providing them with hypothetical situations and having them solve these will be a more efficient and effective way to handle this sort of training. Once they know how to confidently identify biases, it’s important you give them practical ways to challenge these, and ways to report them if they see it happening in an exchange unrelated to them.
Your job descriptions can hold much more bias and direction than you may realize. The language you choose and the requirements you put can dictate who applies and ward others off, meaning you’ll typically end up with just one type of person working within your whole workforce which is massively harmful to diversity and inclusion efforts.
For example, a study by Textio found that certain words can contribute to your job ad feeling either masculine or feminine in tone, and that can have a knock-on effect on who applies. To eliminate implementing gender bias, avoid solely using words like “competitive” and “fast-paced” which appeal to men and softer words like “collaboration”, and “empathetic” that appeal to women. The best way of doing this? Just be truthful about the company culture and what the role entails. The idea of a “perfect fit” is becoming archaic, so you could be setting your company’s progress back if you don’t take the time to amend your job descriptions.
Similarly, it’s important to extend this assessment to your other marketing materials such as social media and blog posts, as well as your wider company website. If people only see one type of person being represented across your posts or images, then they’re unlikely to apply if they don’t fit into that criteria.
Need more help? We have a super handy post on how to write a great job ad to attract more diverse talent, which has plenty of our expert tips in it for how to maximize your company’s diversion and inclusion efforts.
Creating an interview rating scale can help tackle a few types of common bias, including the contrast effect. This is because when you develop something so measurable and target-based, there’s a much lower chance of you being able to make a judgement solely on comparison.
In an interview, you’ll want to assess both personal and professional skills, and you can develop separate rating scales to help you do this. For example, when assessing professionalism, you may give someone the lowest score if they avoid eye contact, slouch, or don’t come prepared with examples or having looked into the company background, whereas you may rank someone the highest score if they appear confident, enthusiastic, and have knowledge on both their role and the company, as well as how the industry works.
The scale points (or sometimes known as anchors) that you choose to feature will vary depending on the role, and the company goals and culture, but implementing a scale like this can significantly help with removing biases from the recruitment process.
Resume reviewing and shortlisting is one of the most common times when bias can occur, because at this stage, hiring managers are basing a decision on what is written down in front of them, rather than what the candidate is like in person. And while this is great for viewing all the candidate’s achievements, it often means hiring managers hone in on the smaller details such as their name, location, gender, and other identifiers—and they subconsciously make a decision about a candidate’s suitability based on this information.
Blind recruitment is the process of removing any identifiers or information that could cause bias. This means hiring managers are only looking at the things relevant to the job, such as a candidate’s skills, experience, and any qualifications they need to support them in the role, making it a much fairer process and encouraging more diverse talent to apply who may otherwise be worried about being stereotyped.
One of the most effective ways to ensure you’re omitting bias from your recruitment process is to set a diversity policy which you can refer to, to make sure everyone within your workforce is being treated fairly. By having a diversity policy, you are putting the issue front and center of your organization so that it can’t be ignored—plus it’s great for future applicants to know what your stance is on diversity and what you’re doing to widen the net and level the playing field for all groups.
This should be something you’re loud and proud about—so be sure to mention your policy on your company website, across your marketing materials, and of course, on your job ads. But make sure you don’t fall into the trap of looking performative and only speaking about your stance, rather than showing it. Partnering or supporting organizations for certain disadvantaged or misrepresented groups is a great start and can be an incredibly rewarding part of your employee’s career journey with you. As can starting up your own initiatives that support diverse talent. You can find inspiration from Microsoft’s Employee Resource Groups.
When it comes to hiring, you or your hiring managers can benchmark how well they’ve done against your diversity policy and goals. Not everything will always be perfect, but by having a set of standards to compare against, you can minimize the amount of bias and move towards being an even more inclusive workforce.
Although eliminating bias in the recruitment process is just one step towards becoming an equal opportunities employer, it’s incredibly important in maximizing your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts and ensuring you welcome people from all groups and walks of life through your office doors.
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