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How To Avoid Letting Unconscious Bias Get Between You And Your Perfect New Hire

By Sophie Richards on 02 March 2022

Bias: woman wearing a blindfold

​Unconscious bias is defined as the learned attitudes or stereotypes that exist in our subconscious that can involuntarily affect the way we think or act. We all have unconscious bias, even when we wish we didn’t.

In the process of hiring a new employee, bias can cloud our vision of the most suitable candidate. When we allow ourselves to be swayed by assumptions or stereotypes, we can end up hiring cookie-cutter versions of ourselves.

Studies have shown that increased company diversity can lead to increased profitability, access to better candidates, a more engaged workforce, increased innovation and increased efficiency.

At interview to keep the hiring process fair, and omit bias as much as possible, it’s best to stick to questions that focus as closely as possible on the requirements of the role in question.

If the role involves physical work, it’s OK to ask about the candidate’s physical health. But when the conversation turns to favourite footy teams, unconscious bias can creep in and an impartial decision becomes harder to make.

Lots of types of unconscious biases crop up in the workplace. Some, to name a few, include name bias, the halo or horns effect, conformity bias, contrast bias and beauty bias.

But what are the most important biases to look out for in an interview? And what can we do to make sure our hiring process is fair?

 

Gender bias

Often referred to as sexism, gender bias is where we favour one gender over the other. Gender bias has been prevalent in workplaces for a long time; there is plenty more work to do to address the gender pay gap and see women equally represented in boardrooms.

Defence industry is a male dominated sector, the latest WGEA report showing just a 24% female representation, but diversity drives innovation, collaboration, increased efficiency, and increased profits. Addressing the gender imbalance is a great place to start on the journey towards a more diverse workplace.

How to avoid gender bias

  • Implement blind resumes (remove the gender, name and any identifying factors) when reviewing candidates.

  • Set diversity goals including quotas for the number of women in the workplace, and specific support for women in leadership roles*

*top tip: if your organisation has support programs for women, be sure to bring this up in the interview. Female candidates will feel supported and it’ll be an excellent point of difference for your business.

 

Ageism

Age bias generally gets worse as people get older (although younger people can be affected) and can result in employees being passed over for promotion or excluded from teambuilding or cultural experiences.

In defence industry, where the workforce is aging and we run the risk of losing access to the knowledge and expertise more experienced employees hold, we must work hard to retain employees in older age brackets.

How to avoid ageism

  • Remove graduation and work experience dates from resumes.

  • Don’t make assumptions based on age; often it is assumed older employees don’t want to learn new skills but that is certainly not true.

  • Implement two-way mentorships where you pair older and younger employees together. This fosters communication and breaks down misconceptions (and can be another great USP for your business).

Confirmation bias

This occurs when we look for information that confirms beliefs or stereotypes that we already hold. When we cherry-pick information that validates our own ways of thinking, we don’t stop to question or evaluate objectively.

This can be particularly devastating during a hiring process, as we focus on the information that feels relevant to us (eg. a university name or previous employer we think highly of) and overlook other, equally relevant information.

How to avoid confirmation bias

  • As an interviewer, be aware of your own blind spots (as we should do for all of these biases).

  • Obtain alternative points of view; ask a variety of different people to meet with or interview new staff and seek their opinion. It’s important to hear multiple perspectives.

  • Ask every candidate the same interview questions – standardisation is key.

Affinity bias

As humans, we often feel most comfortable around people who are more like us than others. We seek out those we share similarities with, such as our interests, backgrounds and experiences.

In the hiring process, a common trap is to gravitate towards candidates with whom we have common ground. This can cause stagnation in diversity and inclusion.

How to avoid affinity bias

  • Implement a diverse hiring panel for candidate interviews.

  • Define culture fit. This is a vague term that leaves lots of room for assumption and bias. Use the company values, mission and vision to consider what attributes an ideal candidate will have and ask questions that directly relate to them.

 

Authority bias

This refers to the tendency to follow a trusted authority figure. This can lead to less critical thinking and more blind following of instructions or advice.

When hiring new employees, it’s important to consider multiple points of view; we have the best chance of hiring the best candidate if various perspectives are considered.

How to avoid authority bias

  • Ensure all interviewers feel empowered to ask questions and share their views during the hiring process.

  • When feeling underprepared or lacking in knowledge, conduct independent research to back up the point of view. This can empower you to challenge authority bias.

So here are a few of the types of unconscious bias we can experience when hiring new employees. We’re all human, and it’s hard to stay impartial all the time. But by following these techniques, the hiring process will remain fair and allow us to make the best decision for the business.

 

Did you know we opened an office in Canberra? Headed up by our very own Tom Butters, we're looking forward to seeing all you Canberrans much more regularly.

Photo by Kirill Balobanov on Unsplash

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