Understanding Unconscious Bias

Thu Nov 30 2023

As human beings, we naturally tend to develop affinity towards like-minded people or those who possess qualities we find desirable. These unintentional, unknowing preferences we show constitutes ‘unconscious bias’. When these biases influence our decision-making during the hiring process, it becomes ‘unconscious bias in hiring’.

It is important to note that these biases often do not stem from explicit discrimination but are largely shaped by stereotypes, cultural attitudes, or personal experiences, that may impact the way individuals evaluate and make decisions about job applicants.

 How Can Unconscious Bias Impact Your Hiring?

Unconscious bias can affect several parts of the recruitment process.  Firstly, when reviewing CVs, people reading CVs can be influenced by educational backgrounds and indeed where people live. There is also commonly unconscious bias towards people’s names on their CVs. This can result in a shortlisted candidate pool minimal diversity.

During the interview stage, prejudices occur linked to appearance, accent and body language. These can put candidates at an advantage or disadvantage depending on the perceived bias. This can therefore result in candidate’s being unfairly assessed as these attributes have nothing to do with their capacity, qualifications and experience to perform the job being interviewed for.   In addition,  affinity bias can appear at this stage.  Affinity bias is based on unconscious inclination towards individuals who are from similar backgrounds or have similar interests.

We have seen circumstances where hiring managers intentionally look for information that confirms their initial opinions – this is known as confirmation bias and can result in wrong decisions being made.

Continuous use of unconscious bias in hiring decisions over time can lead to a workforce with limited diversity where individuals with similar backgrounds and perspectives dominate the workforce.

 How to Combat Unconscious Bias

  • Involve a variety of people on the panel of interviewers, so that each come with their own point of view.
  • Hiring managers and Talent Acquisition Specialists should be given training to recognise and address their own unconscious biases. This can raise awareness and help managers and staff to make fair decisions.
  • Adopting a standardised interview process with a role-specific questionnaire that applies to all candidates and answers are scored accordingly
  • Regular audits of the hiring process and gathering feedback from interviewed candidates to gain an understanding of the candidate experience.


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