How Hidden Biases Can Affect Hiring And Diversity Initiatives

Despite the growing number of companies that say they prioritize DEI in their hiring processes and beyond, many are still falling prey to hidden biases.
October 10, 2022
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“He seems like a good guy.” “I think she’d fit in.” “We have so much in common.”

These are all things you frequently hear hiring managers say about candidates they’re interviewing. And they probably sound harmless. But just because someone seems like a “good guy” doesn’t mean they’d be a good employee — and your gut reaction could be a reflection of something darker: hidden bias

According to data from a Glassdoor survey, more than three-quarters of employees and job seekers call a diverse workforce an important factor when they’re considering job offers and assessing the overall organization. 

Yet despite the growing number of companies around the world that say they are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their hiring processes and beyond, so many are still falling prey to unconscious — and conscious — bias. And this isn’t just harmful to the candidates who are missing out on opportunities that they are well qualified for — it’s also harmful to employers who are missing out on well-qualified candidates.

How, then, can you back up your commitment to diversity with action and ensure that hidden biases don’t creep into your hiring process?

What Are the Effects of Hidden Bias in Hiring?

Biases and discrimination have an adverse effect on your brand and reputation. Internally and externally, people will have a negative impression of your organization — consumers will be reluctant to purchase goods from you, and prospective hires won’t want to work for a company that demonstrates bias.

There are tangible effects, too. An Oregon State University study found that gender bias in hiring leads to meaningful financial and productivity losses. There can be legal consequences, too — discrimination in hiring and employment practices against certain classes is illegal, and if you’re found to be in violation, you could face severe damages.

Common Types of Hidden Biases in Hiring and Recruitment

You’re probably familiar with common types of discrimination against protected classes based on age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, national origin, disability, and genetic information. But some types of bias, like those described below, are less widely known.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias means that you have preconceived notions about a person and look for evidence that confirms your beliefs. In other words, it means failing to keep an open mind or look for any information that disproves your ideas about someone.

Affinity Bias

People tend to gravitate toward people like them, and that’s the basis of affinity bias. Interviewers share certain qualities, ideas, beliefs, goals, and traits with a candidate, so they may be more inclined to choose them when the time comes. This is also called similarity bias

Institutional Bias

Institutional bias occurs when an interviewer or hiring manager prizes certain qualifications — such as attending an Ivy League college — over ones that could be a better indicator of the candidate’s work performance, such as their past experiences. Additionally, it may intersect with affinity bias. For example, the candidate and hiring manager went to the same prestigious college or school, and thus the candidate is regarded more favorably.

Conformity Bias

Conformity bias can occur when a group is making an employment decision. One individual has a different opinion from the rest of the group, but in this instance, they will change their opinion to conform to the rest of the group. This is also the basis of mob mentality.

Halo Effect

If you perceive someone as all good and capable of doing no wrong, this is an instance of the halo effect. In the hiring process, you might believe that because a candidate is capable of doing X, they will also be well versed in Y and Z, despite a lack of evidence attesting to these competencies.

Horn Effect

The horn effect is the reverse of the halo effect. Instead of forming an initial positive impression and standing by it no matter what, the individual forms an initial negative impression and believes the person in question can do no right. 

How to Combat Hidden Biases in the Hiring Process

It’s clear that hidden biases are a huge problem when it comes to hiring and employment in general. So, how do you ensure that you curb this discriminatory behavior and create a more diverse workforce?

1. Start With Job Descriptions

Your job descriptions could unwittingly exclude individuals or discourage them from applying. Certain language can be gender-coded, for example, while other terms could target people of certain demographics while leaving others out. When you’re crafting your job ads and descriptions, be careful to use language and descriptors that are inclusive. Get several sets of eyes on the descriptions to improve them and ensure you’re not alienating anyone.

2. Turn to Technology

Today, there are many tools that help you remove bias from the equation. An applicant tracking system (ATS), for example, allows you to use an AI-powered system to identify candidates based on keywords, finding potential fits based on skills and qualifications. This way, hidden bias doesn’t creep in when a human is evaluating applications.

3. Include Multiple People in the Decision-Making Process

Leaving hiring decisions in the hands of a single person means that it is all up to that individual’s judgments and opinions. While having the candidate interview with multiple people can be time-consuming, it means you’re less likely to allow one individual’s biases to affect the ultimate decision.

4. Incorporate Behavioral Interviewing

Behavioral interview questions focus on competencies and qualities, looking at past examples of how you’ve behaved in different scenarios. It’s helpful in predicting outcomes, and it also allows you to curb bias by looking at a range of details. 

5. Implement Diversity Training

Diversity training should be comprehensive. The purpose is to encourage employees to understand how behaviors and actions will affect others, as well as recognize how differences contribute to a stronger, more cohesive organization. It shouldn’t be limited to managers, either — we all grapple with biases, unconscious and conscious. By learning to recognize them in ourselves, we will be better equipped to be thoughtful in our interactions in the workplace and beyond.

When you take strides to address biases in your hiring process and employment practices, you will ensure that you are creating an inclusive company that welcomes and appreciates differences.

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