How to Keep Bias Out of the Hiring Process

The benefits of having a diverse workforce are numerous. Diverse businesses are more likely to understand the needs of a wider range of customers and clients. Plus there is evidence that that teams with a broader range of perspectives perform better. But keeping bias out of the hiring process is difficult. Even companies with the best of intentions end up hiring the same ‘type’ of person.

Removing biased hiring is the work of HR departments, but also hiring managers and anyone else who writes job postings, interviews candidates, or simply makes a referral. This is why using a specialised recruitment firm is often the best course of action. They won’t have the biases your hiring teams normally have, and can more accurately access a candidate's skills and experience, particularly in the context of the market as a whole.  

Even if you do use an executive search firm, it helps to know what hiring teams can do to ensure bias doesn’t play a role in the recruitment process. 

Here are our top tips.

Start at recruitment

The easiest place to remove bias from the hiring process is in recruitment. The language used job postings can, for example, discourage women and minorities from applying. This poses a real problem in sectors (such as tech) where talent is scarce to begin with.

Luckily there is now software, Textio, that analyzes the language in job postings and recommends changes if the tone is too masculine. And of course there is common sense – using words like ‘businessman’ probably isn’t going to attract a lot of women applicants. 

The danger of referrals

Many companies offer a reward to employees when their referrals produce candidates who are hired. There is a certain logic to it—current employees understand what it takes to succeed at a company, and they are more likely to know about potential candidates not actively on the job market.

But employees tend to be friends with people mostly like themselves, and building a workforce based on referrals will just replicate whatever tendencies are already in place. As such there is a strong argument for removing any referral rewards your organisation currently has.  The odd referral certainly won’t hurt, but an official incentivization scheme will likely produce too many like-minded candidates on a regular basis.

Blind resumes

Resumes contain a lot of useful information for employers, but also are loaded with details that can signal race, class, and gender. Even the most self-aware hiring managers can turn away qualified candidates because the applicant didn’t fit expectations. In a well-known study of the audition practices of orchestras, when women performed behind a curtain and out of sight of the judges, it increased their chances of advancing to the next round by 50%.

Names are the most obvious detail to remove. How likely are you to hire someone with the same name as your archnemesis at school?  But other things, such as a candidate’s university and activities, can be revealing as well. In another study, of applicants to law firms, men who signalled they were from wealthy backgrounds (listing polo and classical music among their hobbies) were 16 times more likely to get an interview than those that signalled a working-class background.  

So as your organisation evaluates its hiring practices, it is a good idea to remember that diversity isn’t a box to check for government guidelines. It is a way to bring a wide range of ideas and qualified perspectives to the table, all with the common purpose of growing your business.

Malcom Forbes said it nicely, “Diversity: the art of independently thinking together.”

About Oliver Parks

Oliver Parks Consulting offers search-based recruitment solutions to the technology sector, specialising in the ERP, CRM, CMS, ECM, BI and Open Source Technology spaces. The firm’s multilingual consultants operate in narrowly-defined niche market segments, enabling them to gain extensive knowledge of the people and companies operating in each technology.  Oliver Parks has a proven track-record with more than 100,000 candidates worldwide and more than 300 clients globally.