Can You Spot The Hidden Bias In Your Hiring Process?

Hiring   |   
Does bias lurk below the surface of your hiring process? Most companies work hard to make the answer no.
Now change the question a bit. Do job candidates think your hiring process suffers from hidden bias?
New research from HR software review company GetApp says a big chunk of job seekers (36%) do.

Concern Among Job Hunters

Almost a quarter (23%) of the 1500 working-aged people surveyed said they believe that no company offers a fair and unbiased hiring process.
Another 13% said only a minority of companies recruit without bias.
On a positive note, 30.3% think most companies do offer a fair, unbiased process. And one-third allow that some companies achieve an unbiased process.
That sounds like tepid praise at best – and there may be good reasons behind it.
GetLabs researcher Karen McCandless points to other recent studies showing that bias in the recruitment process goes beyond perception. It really exists for age, race, and cognitive and personality styles.
Recruitment Bias Study .png

Perceived Hiring Bias Differs By Age, Gender

So it's not that surprising that people who likely encounter bias more express less faith in companies' hiring practices.
Perceived unfairness differs among the sexes: for example, 37% of women believe hiring processes are biased, compared to 32% of men.
Despite the graying of Gen X, though, millennials actually question the fairness of companies' hiring methods more.
In fact, 39% of 18 to 34-year-olds regard most companies’ hiring as unfair and biased, compared to 32% of the older generation.

Getting To The Root Of Unfairness

Bias exists on both a conscious and unconscious level, McCandless points out. And sometimes, she says, it's driven by the constraints of current recruiting practices.

"For example, if hiring managers or external recruiters are solely judged on the speed at which they can find suitable candidates, they fall back on old qualification indicators, such as which school a potential employee went to," McCandless says.
These shortcuts end up creating organizations that hire new employees who are like the people who already work there.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, senior scientists at the NeuroLeadership Institute attributed this implicit bias to an innate preference "for people who are are similar to us, provide a feeling of safety, or feel familiar."

It Pays To Fight

But, if the bias isn't overt or intentional, do businesses really need to invest in programs to diversify hiring?
Only if they want to make more money.
Another recent study shows "companies that are more racially diverse are 35 percent more likely to have higher financial returns than the national median in their industry."
After all, a more diverse workforce better reflects the diversity of customers – opening the organization to new ideas, points of view and opportunities.
And, as the SHRM article notes, that may be why investors are pressuring tech companies to improve. (Even though these efforts don't always meet with immediate success.)

Removing Unconscious Bias

So, how can hiring managers eliminate biases they're not even aware they have?
First, let's cover what hasn't improved diversity in hiring: Mandatory diversity training and grievance systems.
Neither method produced gains in racial diversity over a five-year period, according to Harvard Business Review data cited in The Wall Street Journal.
What worked better? Voluntary training, diversity task forces, college recruitment efforts targeting women and minorities, and other programs that "spark engagement, increase contact among different groups, or draw on people's strong desire to look good in front of others." 
Other tactics suggested in the article include:
  • Review job descriptions to make sure they include pro-diversity language and avoid words that imply a preference for a certain gender, age, or other category
  • Expand recruiting sources beyond what's familiar (recruit from a wide set of colleges, not only the ones your current employees attended) 
  • Analyze the process across all stages, including applications received, interviews granted, and hiring decisions made.

Don't Forget Background Checks Play A Role, Too

Job seekers with criminal records – a group not mentioned in these studies – face some of the steepest barriers to employment.
Bias against people with criminal records can surface at sourcing, on applications, and during a background check
If a candidate's background check reveals a criminal record, the EEOC recommends "individual assessment" of the person's qualifications rather than automatic exclusion of the candidate.

The EEOC guidance isn't law. But ignoring it can leave employers at risk for lawsuits alleging disparate impact discrimination. And in many locations with recent ban-the-box laws, individualized assessment is now required. 

Individualized assessment can be more than a compliance burden. It can actually help employers keep qualified candidates in the hiring pool. 

Some offenses do exclude people from certain jobs (violent crimes and school positions, for example). Yet man of the records in the background results of an estimated 70 million people arose from nonviolent offenses.

Taking time to consider the nature of the offense, the time since it occurred, its relevance to the position, and steps taken since, reveals a lot about people whose life experience is likely different from yours.

It's a healthy step toward challenging bias (hidden or otherwise) and expanding the very notion of diversity. 

Fair Hiring Compliance Candidate Experience

Kim Moutsos

Kim Moutsos


Editor in chief of the GoodHire blog The Works, Kim Moutsos seeks out the latest advice on hiring, compliance, background checks, and the future of work. When she’s not reading, writing, or wrangling other writers, she’s likely on one of her daily runs (over 777 consecutive and counting).

Keep Your Eye On The Law

Subscribe to The Works for monthly updates and insight on changing hiring laws and background check best practices.

Our Contributors

Arte Nathan

Arte Nathan

President & COO at Strategic Development Worldwide
Deb McGrath

Deb McGrath

Founder and Chief Instigator of
Tony Le

Tony Le

Sr. Director, Global HR Operations & Talent Acquisition at IAC Publishing
Celinda Appleby

Celinda Appleby

Head of Global Recruitment Branding, Oracle

See All Our Contributors

Related posts

Hiring  |  Background Checks  |  GH for Good  | 

This Organization Welcomes the Formerly Incarcerated Back Into Society

It’s 6am and Becca Carter is sitting in her car outside of San Quentin State...

Hiring  | 

Don’t Limit Talent Pool by Requiring College Degrees for Middle-Skills Jobs

Many employers are having a hard time filling jobs. According to new...

Hiring  |  Background Checks  | 

Fair Chance Hiring is a Win-Win for Businesses and Employees

Each year, more than 650,000 citizens are released from prison....