Are Common Biases Holding Back Your Hiring Strategy?

March 19, 2021
Author: Mara Zemicael

Diversity in the workplace has become a strategic initiative for many companies in recent years, and no company or hiring manager wants to come across as being close-minded or biased. However, even efforts within organizations to create a more diverse and inclusive work environment, so many organizations still lack diversity in their existing talent pool. What can be done to correct the imbalance?

Don't let unconscious bias negatively impact your hiring strategy.

Unconscious Bias

Implicit or unconscious bias can be a leading culprit to hindering diversity efforts in the hiring process. Anyone can be guilty of it, even people who are often thought of as symbols of diversity. This includes women, people of color, LGBT persons, working parents, or people who grew up underprivileged. Since people are often unaware of their bias, they usually don’t notice it until someone else brings it to their attention – or irrefutable data points to the hiring bias.

While bias comes in many forms, the most common in the hiring process are:

  • Affinity bias – preferring people who appear familiar or relatable because they share similar qualities you possess or someone like you possesses.
  • Conformity bias – being influenced by the opinions of others, instead of making independent determinations.
  • Confirmation bias – focusing only on details that support your original opinions without looking at all the details as a whole.
  • Beauty bias – making assumptions about a person based on appearance. Common examples are assuming tall people make better leaders than short people or an overweight job candidate is lazy.

Related: Purposefully Creating Diversity in the Workplace

Reversing Hiring Biases


Reducing unconscious bias generally has positive results. Research has shown that most companies see better financial and productivity gains when they have a mix of people from diverse backgrounds. So, if you find yourself trying to reduce bias in the hiring process, here are three methods you can implement to create a more balanced hiring strategy that leads to better diversity ratios.

1. Acknowledge and be aware that unconscious bias happens. This sounds basic, but it’s the first step to instituting change. And this is not about making someone the bad guy; it’s about progress. It forces talent acquisition and HR teams to improve their processes.

2. Implement unconscious bias training for hiring managers and the entire talent acquisition team. This training should be in-depth and address the leading causes and most common instances of how our own prejudices affect who we hire. Show common examples and demonstrate how to reduce uncommon bias in recruitment and hiring by asking the right questions about the choices we make and actions we take. Hiring managers may need to slow down their decision-making to ensure they’re not making snap judgments. Another tactic is to imagine someone opposite in the role. For instance, if you feel that an older woman may not be technically savvy enough, imagine a younger and older male candidate with the same qualifications. Would you still dismiss them as candidates?

While this initially may make hiring managers and recruiters uncomfortable, it will go a long way to improve your chances of not dismissing a person solely on them being different than what the decision makers are most familiar with. Implementing unconscious bias training could lead to assessing job candidates more on their skills, experience and individual personality, instead of focusing on preconceived notions based on their appearance, name or where they attended college.

3. Make technology your ally. Recruiting technology has come a long way in leveling the playing field.

  • Matching technology. This software uses natural language processing (NLP) to match the listed skills and experience and intent of candidates with a company’s job openings. This software can also be used to help craft job descriptions that don’t automatically discourage certain groups of people from applying because of the language used. However, this software is only as good as the intentions of the people who created it, so employers need to truly understand the method behind how the software screens for embedded bias.
  • Implement blind hiring. This method removes identifying demographic information, such as gender, name or college, that can sometimes influence a recruiter or hiring manager’s decision. Previous studies by New York University and Marquette University show that employers have a tendency to hire people with more common, easy-to-pronounce names, and names that are perceived to be “black-sounding” are often overlooked in favor for resumes with “white-sounding” names, even when all other factors are similar.
  • Asynchronous Video Interview (AVI). Also known as one-way interviews, these pre-recorded video interviews are evaluated by machines, instead of humans. While this software appears to be more popular among talent acquisition professionals than job seekers, if programmed to ignore race and gender, AVI platforms can create a fairer hiring system by evaluating everyone on the same criteria.

Related: Artificial Intelligence Continues to Improve Recruiting

Reducing bias in the hiring process has to be a conscious effort by the entire organization. Technology alone is not the answer. The people programming the software must first remove their implicit bias to ensure it isn’t included in the software.

A human’s natural tendency toward bias is understandable. Adam Atler, one of the psychologists involved in the New York University study that found employers preferred common names, said to Wired, "When we can process a piece of information more easily, when it's easier to comprehend, we come to like it more."

However, if employers truly want to create a more diverse workforce at all levels of their organizations, they must address the issue of bias in hiring. Creating a strategy to reduce this issue is the first step.