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How to reduce the effects of unconscious bias on recruitment

7 May, 2019

Almost half of our clients cite ‘attracting a diverse enough range of candidates’ as a graduate recruitment challenge for this year. So, what’s holding them back from making a difference? It could be that unconscious bias is at play.

Despite efforts to attract a diverse pool of candidates, there is still a hurdle at the recruiting stage. According to our own 2018 research, 47% BME members of our network say that their background has hindered them in an application process, as do 37% female and 40% state educated members.

Recognised as a significant challenge for industry, government and society in general, unconscious bias was the subject of a series of reports by The Guardian in 2018.

The Guardian’s study focuses on ethnicity, but unconscious bias can affect – and almost certainly is affecting – job candidates from all backgrounds. Age, gender, sexuality, education, background and appearance are all factors in how we unconsciously make snap judgements about potential hires.

What can we do?

1. Reconsider how you screen applications

It’s straightforward to introduce methods that help to reduce or counteract the effect of unconscious bias. Among the most well-documented methods is name-blind recruitment – removing names (and any other significant information) from CVs before they are screened. In some studies, recruiters are asked to review applications criteria by criteria across all applicants, rather than considering each application separately.

2. Be clear on criteria

Evidence also shows that simply asking a recruiting panel to write down their criteria before they begin any interviews can reduce the effect of bias that could disadvantage minority or under-represented groups. Doing this exercise individually rather than as a panel can also help to eliminate ‘group-think’.

3. Support candidates from all backgrounds

Unconscious bias not only applies to those doing the recruiting. Candidates themselves may suffer a lack of confidence if they’re carrying an unconscious bias about the interview panel, the kind of role they’re applying for or the culture of a certain business. Their own perception of ‘stereotype threat’ may affect their confidence, and therefore their performance. Employers could help to combat this this by sending a confidence-boosting message to all candidates, which would help to boost the performance of those who may feel their background could be a factor in success. Our talent team at Bright Network offers support to all members of our diverse network through things like interview preparation calls or CV-writing advice.

We’ll never eradicate unconscious bias itself. In fact, as we learned last year, sometimes taking tests or discussing biases can actually exacerbate them. But we can make sure we’re aware of the potential effects. Being open about how bias is manifesting itself in your recruitment – and other business processes – is a good first step.