9 Ways to Reduce Recruitment Bias in Your Company

artwork of a blackboard in the shape of a head where several unconscious biases are written

A diverse workplace is a much easier idea to back than to enact – and in real life scenarios that go beyond PR tactics, companies face a specific set of challenges when it comes to making that idea into a reality.

Hiring biases can deal a killer blow when it comes to achieving diversity in your business – and it can also compromise your employee satisfaction. For example, a survey by fact checking organisation Fullfact reported that candidates with white-sounding names were 74% more likely to be called for interviews than candidates with ethnic-sounding ones. If you fall into this trap, you could be missing out on finding the key talent your business needs to thrive and grow.

If you run a small business and don’t have a dedicated HR team, it can be particularly difficult to develop and roll out processes that tackle hiring biases. To help you, in this article, we’re going to examine the steps that you can take to avoid falling victim to hiring bias. These steps are:

What is a recruitment bias?

Recruitment bias is an unconscious assumption held by hiring team members that favours certain people in detriment of others. It’s a form of subtle discrimination that reinforces stereotypes and prevents diversity in an organisation.

A recruitment bias can target any trait from a candidate, from age and gender to ethnicity and sexual orientation. What characterises them is the fact that they are unconscious and therefore hard to be acknowledged and addressed.

Case in point: the traits targeted by biases just mentioned are listed in the Equality Act 2010 as characteristics that can’t be discriminated against. However, proving this discrimination in a hiring process poses a problem, since a company can easily argue that a particular candidate wasn’t hired because they didn’t have the required skill set.

Because of that, to promote diversity, tackling recruitment biases at the source is way more productive than after the damage is done. However, as something many recruiters themselves might not be aware of, there must be a conscious effort from your company towards avoiding it. To find out what you can do, just keep on reading.

1. Admit biases exist and put effort into finding them out

First things first: you can’t fight something that’s not acknowledged as being real. It’s important that you kickstart conversations within your recruiting team in which hiring biases are openly discussed, without judgement, so an action plan can be developed and put into practice.

A great way to begin this process is to take the association test devised by Project Implicit, a long-term research initiative spearheaded by Harvard University that studies biases and disparities, and encourage your recruiting team to take it as well. The tool is free to use and can point the way towards finding the hiring bias in your company.

Top Tip

We all change as individuals all the time, so to make sure you’re seeing change in your biases, retake the Project Implicit test every now and again. This will allow you to monitor betterment and shortcomings.

2. Rewrite your job adverts

The way you present your roles in an advert plays a crucial role in creating the candidate pool you’ll be selecting from. The language in your job adverts offers important insights to applicants about the employee you’re after and the company culture you’re promoting – so it’s important not to exclude anyone with it.

Firstly, avoid gendered language in general: use they/them pronouns and neutral professional titles where applicable (“salesperson” rather than “salesman”, for instance).

Then, be careful with your text. Words like “dynamic” and “energetic”, associated with movement, may off-put older applicants. Similarly, studies have shown that words such as “ambitious” and “active” have the potential to exclude women while “considerate” and “sympathetic” usually don’t get a lot of traction with men.

Top Tip

Mix and match words that appeal to different demographics or substitute them with more neutral words with the help of software. In the case of gender writing analysis, you can try several tools currently available online (including many free ones).

Did You Know?

According to a research by LinkedIn, women feel they should only apply to a role if they meet 100% of the criteria, while men are comfortable doing so if they meet just 60%. The gist? The longer the job description, the less likely women are to apply.

Case in point

We believe hiring biases often stem from poorly crafted job postings. When a job ad is written in biased language, it typically attracts a limited range of candidates and makes the workplace less diverse. That’s why crafting an inclusive job offer is a crucial step: it sets the foundation for all other actions toward creating a diverse workforce. (sic)

Martyna Jasinska, HR specialist and recruiter for ePassportPhoto
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3. Use new channels to advertise your vacancies

Always advertising in the same places may lead your applicants to skew towards the same demographics. Using new channels to advertise your vacancies can diversify the candidate pool that makes it into your hiring process.

Diversity-focused job boards can widen your candidate reach, as well as job boards focused on a particular social group. Examples of the latter include Stonewall (for the LGBTQ community) and BME Jobs (for black and other ethnic minorities).

Top Tip

Embrace the trial-and-error aspect of varying your job advertising. Check how (or if) different job boards altered your candidate pool and react according to your goals.

4. Review your applications blindly

Academic research has established that something as simple as a name can be enough to trigger a potential recruiter bias. A way to counter that is to use tools that deliberately mask any personal data about the candidates, allowing their CVs to be analysed solely by the work-relevant information they contain. AI tools can help you with that, as can blind recruitment software.

If obtaining either of those is outside of your budget, a work sample can be an efficient way to test a candidate’s suitability to a role. Unlike CVs, it can be easily divorced from any contextual information by your hiring team.

Top Tip

Should you opt for a work sample test without the aid of a blind recruitment software, get two teams involved: one to request the test from the candidate and obscure their information once received; and another one to conduct the assessment.

5. Turn your hiring process into a collective effort

Unconscious biases have, by their very nature, an intimate and individual nature. In other words, one person can easily have a certain hiring bias which another person does not share.

Making the decisions involved in your hiring a collective process can go a long way to reducing the perils of individual input. To do that, make sure that every step (or as many steps as feasible) of your process involves people from different backgrounds and experiences.

These people should encompass various age groups, ethnicities, and so on. They’ll be able to offer their own different views on a particular job advert or candidate. To go one step further, ask them to form interview panels to oversee that part of the selection. Combined, these actions are poised to provide a more balanced assessment of your candidates.

Top Tip

Run job adverts and outreach communications through a bias or culture check within your company before posting or sending them.

Case in point

In addition to leveraging AI, we implemented a diversity and inclusion task force within our organisation. This task force comprises employees from different departments and backgrounds who collaborate to review and refine our hiring practices continually. They ensure that our job postings use inclusive language and reach a wide range of candidate pools. Moreover, the task force regularly reviews the effectiveness of our initiatives and suggests new strategies to counter biases in the hiring process. […] The diversity and inclusion task force has fostered a culture of openness and inclusivity within our organisation, promoting collaboration and innovation. (sic)

Marc Morego, chief strategy officer for Service Club Delivery
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6. Structure your interviews

Interviews can be thorny spaces to navigate when it comes to avoiding unconscious hiring bias. That’s because of the very human trait that prompts us to get along and be more sympathetic towards people we can relate to: affinity.

This trait can itself be a bias – as you’re likely to be drawn to those you feel you have an affinity with – so it’s important that you give everyone a fair chance at landing the job by not favouring candidates you personally are more at ease with. To do that, have an interview script and make sure you stick to it. Having all the applicants answer the same questions allows them to be measured against each other in a clearer way.

Top Tip

To create a standard across interviews, grade the candidate’s answers to specific questions. This will reinforce the need to stick to the script and make the candidate’s interview success easier to measure.

Case in point

We [at Epos Now] have developed a system of structured interviews which enables us to get an accurate picture of each potential candidate’s strengths and weaknesses without being influenced by any external factors – such as gender or race. Furthermore, we also use criteria-based assessment tools to score candidates based on their suitability for the role rather than subjective criteria like ‘personality fit’. This helps further reduce any bias from creeping into our decisions. (sic)

Richard Nolan, chief people officer for Epos Now
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7. Prioritise behaviour and values over skills and experience

It’s very normal for companies to want candidates who can hit the ground running but looking for skills and experience will hinder employment chances of those who lack higher education, a certain financial situation, or an early start in a particular industry. You could miss someone capable of bringing a lot to the table despite it not being clear on their CV.

To counter that, incorporate steps in your hiring process that assess a candidate’s behaviour. This will be able to tell you if they are a good fit to your company culture and can make the right calls while on the job. To expand the socioeconomic range of your talent pool, try supporting your staff's side hustles and being open about it during the hiring stage. Skills and experience, while certainly important, can be developed over time.

Top Tip

To implement that, ask your candidate’s to answer a behaviour questionnaire or make sure a part of the interview is devoted to this topic.

Case in point

My organisation has been implementing the psychometric tests to avoid any sort of hiring bias within the company. As an HR, I have made sure that all the interview processes consist of the psychometric tests in accordance to the job description. The results seen post the implementation are outstanding. It is easy to shortlist candidates and we are benefitted by employees who prove to be perfect for the post. (sic)

Deepika Salian, HR manager for Pinkvilla
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8. Monitor your diversity hiring

Bringing diversity into your company should be an ever-evolving project. Considering its long term aspect, it’s crucial that you keep track of your hiring to know if you’re on the right track and if there’s more you can do.

Set up periodical reviews of your hiring statistics so you can find which demographics you’re not embracing, and tweak your process accordingly. Try to be as granular as possible: beyond finding out if certain demographics make it through the door, aim to discover if they’re landing diverse roles or always the same ones. Your hiring data will be a powerful ally in this.

Top Tip

Avoid the trap of hiring diverse candidates solely for your diversity goal to be achieved. The idea is not to create shortcuts in the process but to make that process accessible to all.

9. Avoid imposing structural changes

All cultures are built collectively. A diversity-inclined one needs to be inspired by (and inspire) dialogues – and you won’t get a lot of those if you impose changes to hiring, alienating your team in the process.

Diversity training and grievance systems, when forced onto managers (and employees in general), can lead to their biases to become even more entrenched, as they can be perceived as an attack to their professional discretion. When it comes to hiring, it can make managers believe they’re not free to pick the candidates they want and prompt fierce pushback. You can incorporate measures like this, but go for a soft approach when doing so.

Top Tip

Offer diversity training but allow your employees to choose to participate rather than force them to. It can open their eyes to different experiences but is less likely to create resentment.

Case in point

Organisations are trying to reduce bias with the same kinds of programs they’ve been using since the 1960s. And the usual tools—diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, grievance systems—tend to make things worse, not better. […] They’re designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ decisions and actions. But as lab studies show, this kind of force-feeding can activate bias and encourage rebellion. (sic)

Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, academics and authors of 'Getting to Diversity: What Works and What Doesn’t'
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Next steps

The steps we listed and covered in this article are poised to help you counter the unconscious bias in your hiring process and incorporate much more diversity into your company.

Ultimately, they’re meant to be starting points, as every company is unique and its path to diversity varies. The main point to remember is that, while biases are individual, avoiding them in your company is a collective action and everyone should be welcome to bring their own worldview into it.

These worldviews are the key to changing the lens through which you see your potential employees. An incredible contributor to your company can come from many places and in various guises. Letting go of your biases will allow you to spot them.

To continue building an inclusive environment within the workplace, read more about how to foster workplace inclusion for LGBTQ employees.

Written by:
Lucas Pistilli author headshot photo
Lucas is a Brazilian-born journalist and Expert Market’s go-to writer for all things EPOS systems, merchant accounts, and franking machines. Having covered business, politics and technology for many years, he’s driven by his passion for the written word and his goal to help people make well-informed decisions.