Could unconscious bias be killing your hiring process?

Hiring people can be tricky. If you are in a position in which you have the power to hire people, you probably strive to be fair and impartial when making your decisions. You probably believe that you are never swayed by your own unconscious bias about details such as a candidate’s name, education or background.

If you are convinced that you are completely unbiased, the truth is that you would likely be wrong. At some point, every one of us will be affected by unconscious bias. Even if you believe that you are making a completely fair decision, there is a strong chance that you are being influenced by thoughts that you don’t even realise are bubbling away beneath the surface.


What is unconscious bias?

We all make countless decisions every day. These decisions are not always huge, and for most of them we do not spend time weighing up pros or cons or thinking about every small detail. Rather than staring blankly at the drinks board of your favourite coffee shop while we analyse every potential choice possible, our brains have developed a shortcut system that can speed up the decision making process.

One of these shortcuts comes in the form of unconscious bias.

As the name suggests, unconscious bias is a predisposition that we may not be aware of, or in control of. As we take in information, the unconscious bias kicks in and automatically measures all of this info against the life experiences that we have already had. This can take the form of an instinctive reaction, a gut feeling or an instant ‘dislike’ or ‘like’ for someone.

The subconscious functions of your mind will take in all available information in order to make a decision. This available information can trigger both positive and negative judgements and critiques of people based on their personal backgrounds, cultural heritage and education level. These judgements can be triggered by something as simple as hearing someone’s name.

Unconscious bias exists within all of us. While we may not be aware that it is there, it’s very important to regularly assess our decisions in order to ensure that we are not letting them overrule our better judgements. After all, if left unchecked, these biases can easily lead to decisions on who is hired in a workplace setting.

While some of our unconscious biases may be relatively harmless, such as a certain hairstyle reminding us of a past teacher that we respected, some can be based on past prejudices. These biases do not automatically make someone ‘racist’ or ‘sexist,’ but they do need to be looked into and examined.


The dangers of unconscious bias in the workplace

When it comes to recruitment in organisations of all sizes, unchecked, unconscious bias can tarnish your reputation; weaken your team and further stereotypes.

Here are a few of the dangers of letting your biases run amok:

·         A lack of diversity – Recruiting managers who do not look into their own unconscious bias can result in hiring the same kind of candidate over and over again. While it is natural to want to replicate an ideal employee, this strategy can lead to a lack of diversity in skills and approaches.

·         A static culture – Similarly, when we recruit people that we unconsciously feel most comfortable with, we can easily end up with a corporate culture that lacks diversity and dynamism, and does not grow and change.

·         History can repeat itself – If you have had negative business experiences and a certain kind of individual was on your team, it can be easy to want to avoid others like them in the future. By placing blame on an archetypal personality type rather than on your own systems and business strategies, you can become blinded to the areas where you could improve.

·         A poor business reputation – If your unconscious biases become apparent (for instance, if you skew towards hiring people of certain races, genders, academic institutions etc.), it can really put off prospective clients and others in your industry. In today’s social media connected world, this can truly hamper your business and sully your reputation.


How can you tackle unconscious bias in the workplace?

It is important to remember that unconscious bias can be checked into, unravelled and dispelled. This is especially important when hiring new people so that you do not inadvertently fall into any of the traps listed above and pass up some great people in the meantime.

It can be hard to know how to approach your own bias, and one of the first steps is recognising them in yourself. Your unconscious biases are not something to be ashamed of; in fact, having them is a completely normal human experience.

Once you know that your own unconscious biases are clouding your judgement, one of the best strategies to overcome them is to bring in input from a third party.  A trusted colleague, an external party and personality assessments will all help assess and review your hiring choices.  Helping you build a stronger, more diverse team – with more overall success.

What strategies do you currently use to overcome unconscious bias in the workplace?