4 Common hiring biases and how to avoid them

It goes without saying that the world is very different from that of 12 months ago. We’re in uncharted waters and establishing new ways of working and living as we go.

In saying that, there are still many familiar seas we find ourselves sailing, one of which is that of bias, both our own and each other’s bias. Conscious or unconscious, bias is something we encounter daily – this hasn’t changed just because we are working remotely.

To tackle bias we need to accept we all have unconscious biases, only then can we can start to address the common biases that impact hiring decisions every day.

Small adjustments can make a big impact when hiring. Use language that is not gender-specific when creating job adverts, make CVs ‘blind’ by removing names and DOB or age and never ask for a photo from an applicant.

Further enhance your hiring process by standardising interviews and using sample scenarios and skills tests to see what potential applicants’ work might look like, rather than basing decisions on opinion alone.

Common Hiring Biases to Watch Out For

The word bias can be defined as an “inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.” Gender bias and racial bias usually spring to mind when this topic is raised, but there are many other less conscious biases we all need to be aware of.

In the workplace, bias can impact hiring decisions, promotions and allocation of tasks within teams. It can also heavily impact company culture, with teams lacking in diversity suffering in terms of productivity and creativity.

In short, biased behaviour can be characterised by decisions based on opinion rather than fact. Below are four of the most common workplace and hiring biases to watch out for. Take note and consider whether your decisions are impacted by unconscious or conscious biases.

1. The Halo or Horn Effect

This is one of the most common examples of unconscious bias. The ‘Halo or Horn’ effect is when a person’s character or performance is assumed and based heavily on one trait or event. If it is positive it is called the ‘Halo’ effect and if it is negative it is called the ‘Horn’ effect.

This bias can affect an organisation adversely by presenting skewed and unfair feedback. A common example of the halo effect when hiring could be focusing heavily on where a candidate went to school. While a common horn effect could be judging a candidate on their accent or a personality trait that doesn’t match your own.

2. Name Bias

Even with the best intentions, hiring managers can often be biased and deliberately not choose names they consider “foreign” or unfamiliar. The main issue here this is the exclusion of many qualified and suitable candidates, which can create uniform companies lacking in diversity. Blind CVs and focusing on skills, rather than demographics, are good ways to eliminate this bias.

3. Age Bias

Have you ever assumed a younger team member is innately tech-savvy due to their age? Or that an older candidate is digitally incompetent or out of touch?

These are both common forms of age bias, one of the most common biases in the workplace. A good way to avoid this bias at the interview stage is to omit the need for a person’s DOB on your job applications.

4. Similarity Bias

If you favour candidates that have graduated from specific schools, people who have worked at certain companies or that are from the same town as you, you are not practising inclusive hiring.

These actions might seem innocent, but this type of hiring bias can risk the creation of groupthink and will result in a lack of new ideas or innovation. Avoid similarity bias by making sure your interview panel is diverse, sticking to structured interviews and asking for samples of work.

How to Reduce Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

To avoid bias you must look past first impressions or preconceived ideas. At first, this will take time, but as you train yourself to think more critically, you’ll soon see the benefits in terms of more inclusive hiring.

A key figure in this field, Daniel Kahneman, advises looking for feedback and procedure to combat bias. In a 2018 article with The Atlantic the author writes:

“The most effective check against them, as Kahneman says, is from the outside: Others can perceive our errors more readily than we can. And “slow-thinking organizations,” as he puts it, can institute policies that include the monitoring of individual decisions and predictions.”

Below are some policies and methods to help you and your teams reduce unconscious bias.

Create awareness

Being aware of unconscious bias and its existence is the first step to making sure it can be seen and ideally, avoided. By reading this article you are already improving your awareness and working towards reducing bias.

Formal ways to raise awareness include group exercises, training, meetings, sharing of online resources and events, such as our annual Ability Day which highlights the strengths of people from different backgrounds.

Diversify your leadership team

To reduce bias, leadership teams need to be diverse and open to the opinions of each leader – regardless of their background, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or gender.

If a leadership team are all from the same background or share the same mindset, the same unconscious biases will impact their decisions. It is vital to have a diverse range of views and opinions and to ensure this is maintained when hiring and promoting people.

Be accountable

Policies and procedures must be measured and reported on to monitor progress and report from the outside as Kahneman suggests above. Data must be tracked and used to make sure decisions are made fairly and stop any patterns of bias.

Reporting also helps ensure that bias is kept in check and opens discussions to lead to a healthier decision-making process. If data does reveal a bias, clear and transparent intervention should be made.

Creating an environment where each employee feels comfortable to raise any concerns if they have encountered bias is vital.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t just good for business, it’s good for our relationships, our cultures and our day to day lives. Small changes can make a big difference and should be both acted upon and routinely measured and reported on.

If you’d like to learn more about inclusive hiring get in touch, I’d be delighted to chat, or to learn more about Cpl’s policies you can download our Responsible Business document.