9 Types of Unconscious Bias that Affect Recruitment
29 September 2022
What is unconscious bias?
Imperial College describes unconscious bias as “the associations we hold, outside our conscious awareness and control”. It is essentially our brain making automatic judgements based on our previous experiences, upbringing or previously held beliefs.
Unconscious bias is not an implicitly bad thing – it is a natural response from the brain in assessing situations. However, the unconscious biases that we hold may be flawed, and being able to recognise them is an important step to creating an inclusive mindset.
How does unconscious bias affect recruitment?
Have you ever selected or rejected a candidate for one of the following reasons?
- They were nearing retirement age
- They were newly married, and you thought they may be going on parental leave in the next few years
- They went to a top university
- They worked for a well-known organisation with a great reputation
- You thought they would be a great culture fit
- You liked them or didn’t like them
- You didn’t hire someone you wanted to because the rest of the interview panel didn’t like them.
- They were really nervous in their interview
If so, then you hired based on an unconscious bias. Don’t feel bad – as previously stated, unconscious bias is unconscious, and everyone does it. But you do need to be aware of it because really, the only reason to hire or reject someone is based on their ability to do the job.
Types of Unconscious Bias
Are you hiring the best person for the job, or are you unknowingly hiring or rejecting based on unconscious bias? If you are aware of the different types of bias, you can change your recruitment practises to be fairer and more inclusive.
Here are some examples of unconscious bias, as described by the NHS National School for Healthcare Science.
1. Affinity Bias
This can be in play when someone is hired based on their perceived ability to fit into the team. This could be because they share similar interests or have a personality similar to the rest of the team.
2. Attribution Bias
Attribution bias is when a judgement or assumption is made based on a single action or behaviour. An example of attribution bias is when you reject a candidate who wore sneakers to the interview and rather hired the one who wore a suit. The assumption being that someone wearing a suit must be professional, and the one wearing sneakers clearly doesn’t care.
3. Conformity Bias
You’re on an interview panel. You don’t think the candidate has sufficient knowledge or the skills required for the job, but the rest of panel loved them, so you change your mind. This is Conformity Bias in play.
4. Confirmation Bias
This is where the impression you have formed of a candidate at application follows them through the interview and recruitment process, potentially steering the questions you ask them at interview and clouding your impartiality. This impression may have been formed from a single attribute, such as the university they went to or the font they used on their CV, and may have no bearing on their ability, but it is (unconsciously) used as a basis to confirm your impression of them.
5. Gender Bias
Gender bias is one of the more obvious types of bias, and many people and organisations are already actively working towards remedying it. But it can still be seen at play when someone is given preferential treatment based on their gender. It’s also important to remember that Gender Bias works both ways. It may be denying a manual job to a woman based on her perceived strength but being flexible with women who have childcare responsibilities and not considering that men require the same flexibility is also Gender Bias.
6. The Halo Effect
This is where a single attribute lights up the individual so that you don’t notice or pay attention to the other skills or attributes that they possess or lack. “They worked at this massive company so they must be good!” or “They studied at this amazing university so they must be brilliant!”.
7. The Contrast Effect
Comparing CV’s or applicants to each other doesn’t allow us to view them for their own worth, but only in comparison to another. The Sun and Polaris are both stars, but you won’t see Polaris if you’re looking at them together. Polaris needs its own space to shine.
Ageism is where someone is discriminated against based on their age and can affect all age groups. Age should not matter in recruitment, only ability. The most common example of ageism is in rejecting an applicant based on their proximity to retirement but can also include denying a young employee a promotion because they’re “too young”.
9. Name Bias
Recent research found that minority ethnic applicants in the UK had to send 60% more applications to get a job interview than their white counterparts.
How to reduce impact of unconscious bias in the recruitment process?
The Job Advert and Description
- Pay attention to the language you use in your job description to ensure that it is inclusive. Including adjectives like energetic and enthusiastic contains affinity bias and could be construed as Ableist, while rock star, guru and ninja are gender-coded words that not everyone can relate to. Similarly, advertising paid maternity leave may seem like an inclusive benefit, but it assumes that only women will be entitled to the benefit and implies that this is a job for women. Parental leave is a far more inclusive term that eliminates gender bias.
- The job advert should only request skills that are pertinent to the job. For example, it would be completely ok to ask that applicants hold a full drivers license if they will be required to drive as part of the role but asking for a drivers license for a role that doesn’t require driving is discriminatory.
- Anonymising CV’s and applications can help to reduce name bias, ageism, and gender bias when reviewing applications.
- To avoid affinity and confirmation bias, consider creating an application form that only requires applicants to supply details of skills, previous job titles and degree of education, leaving out names of previous employers and academic institutions attended.
- Take a structured approach to the interview. Follow a list of standardised skills-based questions that are relevant to the job description, and this will limit the possibility of asking too many impromptu questions that may result in confirmation or affinity bias.
- To avoid conformity bias and the contrast effect, create an interview rating sheet which allows you to score each candidate on how their answer indicates their ability to do the job. This can be shared and discussed with the rest of the panel after the interview. The person with the highest score should be hired. This will also help you to avoid the contrast effect.
As recruiters, it is our responsibility to champion inclusion in the workplace and encourage inclusive recruitment practises within our client organisations and our own. Visit Inclusive Employers for more information and useful resources relating to inclusion in the workplace.
Are you recruiting? Contact Quantum to find out how we can help you to find the right candidate.