Talent Acquisition

Can Recruitment Ever Be Unbiased?

Nobody will ever openly admit to discriminating against a candidate based on their age, ethnicity or sexual orientation but countless studies have uncovered ‘unconscious bias’ during the recruitment process.

A recent investigation by the BBC found that a job seeker with an English-sounding name was offered three times the number of interviews than an applicant with a muslim name. The fake candidates applied for 100 jobs as business managers in advertising sales across London and after two and a half months, Adam was offered three times more interviews than Mohamed. The two CVs were also uploaded to four job sites. Adam was contacted by four recruiters, but Mohamed only two.

Removing names from application forms, introducing recruitment technology and even setting diversity targets are just some of the ways companies have tried to eliminate giving jobs to people who look or sound the part. Last year, the consumer goods manufacturer Unilever introduced gaming technology to try and eliminate unconscious bias from its recruitment process. The technology mixed gaming elements with video interviews to identify the best candidates among its 250,000 annual graduate applicants.

Placid Jover, VP Human Resources at Unilever UK and Ireland said:

At Unilever, we believe that a diverse range of talent is essential for the success and creativity of our business. Our new digital recruitment process for our popular graduate programme takes us to a new level of encouraging social inclusion and diversity amongst our applicants. We hope the interactive experience will enable candidates to have the confidence to demonstrate their true leadership potential.

But no matter how advanced or clever technology is and regardless of how fun or engaging it is, sadly it won’t and can’t solve the entire problem of bias. While these tools help can companies look beyond the CV, managers still need to be aware of their internal own biases when deciding who they will hire. So can ‘unconscious bias’ ever be exterminated or will it always exist?

Dr Sondra Thiederman is an author and expert on unconscious bias. She says:

In my view, a better question is, “Why are humans fundamentally biased and what can we do about it? Humans are genetically prone to both categorizing human beings into groups and to making inflexible generalities about those groups. This is an evolutionary trait that evolved from the need to do so when living in more primitive conditions. Having said that, there are ways to minimize and even defeat many of our biases.

Dr Thiederman has written a book called “3 Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias: Watch, Think, Act”, which she believes can help anyone get rid of unconscious bias.

Key 1 – Watch

WATCH your thoughts, your past experiences, and your actions for signs of unconscious bias. WATCH will move your bias from your unconscious to your conscious awareness.

Key 2 – Think

THINK about the people you know, about how you would feel were a bias directed at you, about your values, and about pausing long enough to get your bias out of the way.

Key 3 – Act

ACT as if your bias doesn’t exist, and to identify common ground.

THINK and ACT will give you control of the bias and, very possibly, eliminate it altogether.

Whilst hiring managers can use a number of tools and techniques to try and get rid of unconscious bias, it’s much easier for them to connect with the person in the actual interview than the one represented by a CV. But the initial battle is for the person, regardless of age, sex, ethnicity or academic background, to be able to get through the front door and then be able to prove that they are the best candidate for the job and if they are then nothing else matters.

By Ushma Mistry

Editor & Content Strategist at Link Humans, download our new eBook now: Measuring Employer Brand: The Ultimate Guide and check out our latest product The Employer Brand Index.