Why should we care about unconscious bias in hiring?

25.01.23 Articles

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is when someone allows personal opinions to impact their judgement in an unfair way. Many don’t realise that this can be in both a negative or positive way. However, as the name suggests, unconscious biases are exactly that, unconscious. So, how do we combat something we don’t actively control? Good question.

First, it’s important to be aware of some of the types of unconscious bias that can exist within hiring:

  • Perception bias: When someone is viewed unfairly based on preconceived stereotypes about a group they belong to – e.g., age, gender, appearance.
  • Affinity bias: When someone is judged based on their similarity to the hiring manager – e.g., preferring a candidate who attended the same university. 
  • Halo/Horn effect: When the first impression of someone clouds further judgement of their qualities – e.g., If a positive first impression causes unsuitable traits for a role to be ignored, or a negative first impression causes positive attributes to be disregarded. 
  • Confirmation bias: When an initial opinion is formed about someone, and all following information is used to confirm this opinion, whether positive or negative – e.g., believing that people who have had time out of work are lazy and then ignoring any information that disproves this belief.

Why should we care?

It’s no secret that lack of diversity is a key issue within STEM, with women and people of colour being grossly underrepresented in the sector. However, multiple studies have found that greater diversity within a business leads to greater productivity and performance overall. 

So, not only does bias in hiring cost you money in the long term, it can also cost you top talent when someone is overlooked despite their qualifications. It also goes without saying that if steps can be taken to improve EDI (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) within an organisation, then they should be.

Due to discrimination, black and brown people and people of color are not afforded the opportunity to be hired into leadership roles…You either came into the game as a scientist, or for many black people, you had a high school diploma and/or at least an undergraduate degree and worked from the bottom up.

Tia Lyles-Williams, Founder & CEO of LucasPye BIO (Speaking to Biobuzz on diversity in life sciences)

What can we do?

Tackling unconscious bias doesn’t just mean training your team to be aware (although this is something you should do) it also involves putting things in place throughout the hiring process to prevent unconscious biases occurring. Here are some steps you can take to combat unconscious bias in your next hiring process:

  • Assess the wording in your job ad: Studies have shown that the language used in a job advert has the power to attract or deter certain people from applying. For example, women are less likely to apply when overly masculine words are used (e.g., outspoken, fearless, assertive). You can check the wording of your ad for free here.
  • Widen the pool: It’s common to look for talent within someone’s existing network, however this network usually reflects their own demographic. This ultimately reduces the diversity of the talent pool before application screening and interviewing processes even begin.
  • Blind screening: This is where the applicant’s identifiable details are removed (e.g., name, gender, race, academic institutions). This prevents any unconscious biases forming as only the necessary qualifications are considered by the hiring team. 
  • Structured interviews: In a structured interview, all candidates are asked the same questions and their responses can be fairly compared. If an interviewer begins asking personal questions outside of the role, they may learn something that impacts their overall judgement unfairly.

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