Insightful BlogsMay 22, 2023

Unconscious Bias In Recruitment

Recruitment Process Not Working? Unconscious Bias Could Be the Problem

Hiring the perfect candidate for a particular job is what every human resources or recruitment officer strives for, but many are unaware that unconscious bias may be influencing their hiring decisions – to the extent that they could be putting the organisation at a competitive disadvantage.

According to the Harvard Business School, unconscious bias can be defined as “the mental processes that cause us to act in ways that reinforce stereotypes, even when in our conscious mind we would deem that behaviour counter to our value system”.

Unconscious bias is usually associated with race or gender, such as only seeing women as nurses and men as pilots, but it goes much deeper than this, specifically when we make snap judgements based on our own background influences, personal experiences and societal stereotypes. Even a person’s name, body weight, hair colour, looks, height and other attributes can trigger unconscious bias.

Biased recruitment

It’s not uncommon for recruiters to form biased opinions about job applicants early on in the hiring process, when CVs are reviewed. These opinions are often based on criteria that are completely irrelevant to the position, such as the applicant’s photo, where they live, or the school or university they attended. The candidate is then shortlisted based on these biases.

When it comes time for the interview, the recruiter might unconsciously formulate questions that confirm their earlier opinion of the applicant. Ultimately, the person is appointed on opinion, rather than merit.

For this reason, it’s important for recruiters to be aware of relying on biased first impressions formed during the interview. Aspects such as visible tattoos, the strength of the person’s handshake, or even a ‘gut feeling’ could influence your decision-making process – either positively or negatively.

If left unchecked, unconscious bias can lead to inequality in the company’s workforce and negatively impact the corporate culture through decreased employee satisfaction and retention. Furthermore, candidates who feel they have been unfairly discriminated against because of bias could lay a claim at the CCMA. This could harm the company’s reputation and ultimately, its bottom line.

What’s the solution?

While there’s no quick fix for unconscious bias and it will never be truly eliminated, it can be mitigated by replacing outdated hiring processes with more objective ones.

Review and identify biases in your shortlisting and interviewing processes. Rather than relying on one individual to sort through job applications, interview candidates and decide who gets the job, adopt a panel approach and make these decisions as a team.

Scorecards are also a great way to standardise the interview and ensure candidates are graded equitably, according to the skills required for the job.

Making hiring decisions that are data-driven and based on evidence rather than opinion will not only ensure diversity and inclusion in your workforce, but also improve employee morale and ultimately, catalyse company growth.


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