Three ways to remove unconscious bias from HR recruitment

Julia Nickless

By Julia Nickless

13 Jun 2019

Unconscious bias is still very much in the news. Earlier this month, Julia Gillard, the former Australian prime minister, spoke about the challenges she faced — and witnessed — on her way to the top. It’s a sobering thought to consider that at our current rate of progress, it could take more than two centuries to achieve gender parity in the workplace.

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Humans are hardwired to make quick decisions — when staring into the jaws of a hungry crocodile, it pays to act first and think later. However, we inhabit a very different world from that of our ancestors. Following our gut instincts in recruitment, far from saving the day, can lead to poor decisions:

  • We might reject the best person for the job because of assumptions we have made about their ability to deliver.
  • Organisations can miss out on the richness of having the upper echelons of management drawn from both genders, a range of cultural backgrounds, and/or a mixture of demographics — and the different perspectives they can bring.
  • Plus, rejecting good people for no good reason, is just plain wrong!

Unconscious bias is something that’s really difficult to overcome, though — it’s not something we are used to regulating, because it happens automatically. We often see the consequences in Twitter battles where people can interpret issues in completely different ways, and posters are ‘flamed’ for a seemingly innocent remark. This article about the ladder of inference — conceived by the business theorist Chris Argyris — sums up the issue quite neatly.

And it’s tough to be told you’re harbouring prejudices. That’s why anti-bias classes and workshops may not be effective in isolation, according to MasterCard’s chief inclusion officer, Randall Tucker.

So how can we tackle unconscious bias?

At Connor, we advocate a multi-pronged approach to tackling the problem, and you can apply parts of it to everyone in the organisation, not just managers and HR, and not just individuals considered to have a problem. After all, prejudice isn’t only encountered at the recruitment stage, and it can blight lives and careers:

  1. Use artificial intelligence (AI) and psychometrics as part of the process. A quick and easy way to eliminate human biases is to remove humans from part of the process. You can use tech to filter CVs, for example, and when you do need to involve people, you can filter out personal information from their applications that might trigger people’s biases —name, gender and age details, for example.
  2. Build unconscious bias training into everyone’s personal development plan. As we learnt from the MasterCard article, unconscious bias training as a standalone process can be viewed defensively, so weaving it into everyone’s learning and development can make it feel much more natural – and of course, weed out your own unconscious biases in who you offer the training to in the first place.
  3. Work with specialist external recruiters. Offloading the recruitment work to a specialist HR recruitment agency can help to resolve the issue. When you choose an agency with a proven track record in this area — for example, their recruiters have all undergone unconscious bias training, and they offer this kind of training as part of their own portfolio — they are much more likely to be impartial.

Want to choose the right people? Talk to Connor

At Connor, we specialise in always finding the right candidate for the role, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or disability. Not only do we have a great team of recruiters on the case, but we’re also up to speed with the latest technology — we know what works, and what doesn’t.

If you’d like to know more, please check out the recruitment area of our website or give us a call on +44 (0)1491 414010.

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