Hiring Bias – Create a Fairer Hiring Process

Bias can be a powerful factor in the recruitment process. In 2019, researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley, began secretly auditing some of the top companies for implicit bias in the hiring processes. Their results showed a significant bias against resumes that included candidate names likely to be associated with Black applicants. In other words, even at top-tier employers, bias appeared to be repeatedly popping up in the hiring process.

This may surprise some people who believe that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Act wiped out bias in hiring. After all, it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against potential employees based on gender, race, religion, age, national origin, or disability. Nevertheless, bias in hiring is still an issue.

The Root of Bias in Hiring and Recruitment

When it comes to recruiting, bias is the brain’s subconscious way of labeling a candidate as a “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” according to the recruiter’s subjective feelings about a candidate’s observable characteristics. This means that the recruiter can be biased toward or against a candidate (for example, a male recruiter preferring a male candidate), which can lead to unfair assessments. Given this understanding, it’s clear that bias can show up in almost every step of the hiring process.

Consider a recruiter reviewing dozens of applications for a job opening. The recruiter can show bias when judging candidates. Anything from gender and personal pronouns to alma maters and home addresses can spark common hiring biases. Many recruiters aren’t even aware they’re being biased because many of these judgments happen subconsciously.

Even after the resume review stage, hiring teams can again display bias during interviews. A number of studies over the years, including some from Princeton and New York University, have concluded that it takes less than a minute to form a first impression of someone. That first impression could be based on an unfair preconceived notion — related to anything from previous personal experience to common stereotypes.

For instance, a recruiter may expect candidates to be energetic and cheerful during the initial screening. Under those circumstances, a more thoughtful, serious, or reserved applicant could be removed from consideration before getting a chance to warm up to the discussion. While this immediate impression may have some truth to it, the candidate may need time to truly show what they have to offer, which may be far more beneficial to the organization in the long run.

The good news is that it’s possible to mitigate the effects bias can have on the hiring process. And it all starts with having conversations to acknowledge, understand, and address this issue.

Common Types of Hiring Bias

According to ThriveMap

  1. Affinity bias
  2. Confirmation bias
  3. Halo effect
  4. Horn effect
  5. Illusory correlation
  6. Beauty bias
  7. Conformity bias
  8. Contrast bias
  9. Non-verbal
  10. First impression

Reducing Implicit Bias in the Hiring Process

In my years in the recruitment industry, I’ve encountered some excellent, reliable ways to temper bias. Below are a few recommendations.

1. Implement an applicant tracking system.

An applicant tracking system, or ATS, is a centralized platform used to streamline recruitment and consolidate candidates. A robust ATS can collect, analyze, and review hiring and recruitment data objectively, and can provide an overview of all touchpoints and data collected along the candidate’s journey. At any time, a recruiter can retrieve key information about an applicant from the system.

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest benefits of an applicant tracking system is the ability to reduce bias. Certainly, recruiters can tailor candidate searches by inputting keywords such as “developer” or “Harvard.” Nevertheless, an ATS has the potential to be more impartial than most humans.

Another advantage of an automated applicant tracking system is time savings. An ATS can match up candidates with remarkable speed. At the same time, most applicant tracking systems are customizable and can integrate with other platforms such as marketing tools.

2. Remove identifiers.

Applicant tracking systems remove a lot of unconscious bias from recruiting. But, they can’t conduct interviews for you. Instead, get creative in implementing different methods to decrease the chance of discrimination before and during interviews.

One method I learned that proved successful was to scrub identifiers (such as applicant name, education, address, gender, and related fields) from every resume. As a result, your hiring committee can compare candidates on the basis of their experience — nothing else.

For example, in a previous role, I was tasked with building out the DevOps team. I presented candidates of diverse ethnicities and genders, but the hiring manager kept rejecting them no matter how technically adept they were. When I brought up the high rate of rejection, the hiring manager explained that they were only interested in bringing on male applicants of a certain ethnicity.

Though that explanation was genuinely upsetting, I suggested the method of removing identifiers from applications, and we agreed to try it. From that point forward, I presented only candidates’ qualifications, and the acceptance rate went from near zero to over 95%.

3. Involve a hiring panel.

It’s common in recruiting to conduct a final panel-style interview. This is the opportunity for the candidate to meet their potential teammates and vice versa. Someone on the call may have reservations or be impressed just based on their initial perception of the candidate. Rather than letting this bias influence the interview, let the candidate’s qualifications and cultural fit come into play.

One way to mitigate bias with panel members is to ask them to listen in on calls with candidates rather than join by video. Just listening helps panelists focus on the substance of candidates’ answers rather than their appearance.

Final Thoughts

Everyone has biases, whether they realize it or not. Rather than allowing those biases to unfairly affect the hiring process, set up guardrails to guide the process toward more equitable outcomes. You’ll end up making more appropriate hiring decisions and, ideally, improving the candidate and employee experience.

Secrets And Lies: 5 Ways To Free Your Hiring Bias

Hiring bias? Did I just use the b-word? Not us. So say countless companies, recruiters. Perhaps not overtly, but unconscious bias still influences recruiting, hiring and firing decisions everywhere , from the tiny little startup to the Fortune 500s.

We can’t mitigate what we don’t recognize. Also: claim obliviousness and it will cost you. You can bet that the suit for unspecified damages brought by Gregory Anderson against his former employer, Yahoo, is already churning over millions in legal fees.

Did I just cite a white male as an example of a bias victim? Yup. Aside from clear issues of diversity that have to do with minorities, women, the disabled, and older professionals, other documented victims of hiring bias include men under six feet tall. They’re routinely considered “too short” to be leaders in the C-suite, as shown in a study from 2004 that turned into a long-lasting benchmark on implicit bias. The study also found that for every inch above six feet fall, CEOs received about an additional $790 a year. And millennials have often been left at the altar for perceived attitudes they may not even have, including the fact that they may well leave the job at the altar. Circular logic, meet backasswards recruiting strategies. Well played.

It’s been hypothesized that we simply tend to go for what’s familiar (I don’t need to open that particular hornet’s nest, do I?) Apparently we are still working from an ancient survival reflex, in which we take only moments to size up whether or not a stranger was about to help us slay a mammoth or lob a rock at our head and steal our cave. It’s like using our prehistoric reptile brains to measure talent. Despite honorable intentions (or not) we are still trapped in that same set of misassumptions, making complicated, weighty hiring decisions based on criteria as subjective as height, weight, age, hair color, color, gender, and physical condition and basic good looks.

Is it really that complicated? No, not with a little more effort. Here are 5 ways to overcome it:

  1. Stop doing it.It is undoubtedly part of our own set of unconscious bias that certain instances of discrimination infuriate us to the point of deciding the offendermust be guilty. Again, to cite Yahoo: Anderson’s suit is yet another sore spot in a troubled phase of a great big company that galls us on a couple of levels. First: we all hate performance reviews, and second: the sheer volume of employees fired as a result of these reviews smacks of manipulation and unfair tactics. We know it’s wrong. We can’t pretend to leave that kind of ethical certainty outside the entrance to our own workplaces.
  1. Look in the mirror. If we can’t simply reflexively undo bias, then at least we can drop the act and accept that it happens. Point to the ancestral reasons and it becomes like our pinky toe: just a part of our makeup that’s easy enough to ignore. Without finger pointing, without a public dressing down, enlist colleagues and educate hiring teams. Take a deep dive into hiring practices and create some metrics. The first part of healing is acknowledging the problem. Among the tools: an IAT test (Implicit Association Test) that measures the strength of associations between concepts and evaluations; or a job listing booster that also words to decode hidden bias, such as Textio. 
  1. Follow the money.Address the advantages of a diverse workforce in terms of proven ROI and competitiveness. Companies with a multifaceted, multigenerational workforce have been found to be more competitive, better able to serve their customers, and more able to shine in terms of employer brand, thereby increasing the talent available. Diversity has also been shown to drive innovation and be better equipped for dealing with the global marketplace. Bringing older professionals back into the workforce has its own benefits. On the flip side, settlements do not come cheap. Consider PMT Corp, ordered to pay over $1 million to settle a suit that it discriminated against job applicants based on age (over 40) and gender (female).
  1. Put down carpeting.This is a metaphor: wherever you find bias sticking to your hiring process, fix it. Consider the fixes of thehiring practices of symphony orchestras. Notoriously short on women in the 1970s (the top five U.S. orchestras were less than 5% women) orchestras began holding blind auditions behind screens resulting in at least 25% women being hired. The Boston Symphony Orchestra actually added carpeting to muffle the sound of high heels clicking during blind auditions. And as more women comprised orchestras, more women candidates applied.
  1. Forget the carpeting, and forget us, too. The story of the orchestras is a common trope in this discussion. An unsettling recent piece proposes taking humans out of the equation entirely— and brought up the orchestras as an argument. I’d counter that we were the ones who put down the carpeting, after all. But if indeed we are biologically hardwired to be biased, then perhaps the solution is simply to do away with the biology in the hiring process. I may not agree with this — I like to think we’re better than that. But if we have to shake the tree to get to better apples, it may be worth it.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Photo Credit: cornerstoneindia Flickr via Compfight cc

Hiring Without Bias 3 Steps Your Company Needs to Take

With the relentless media focus on the subject of diversity, you may think that bias in the hiring process is a well-controlled issue.

It’s not!

In fact, one of the biggest challenges and most frequent missteps of recruiters, hiring manager and companies is overlooking fair and impartial hiring practices, at every level of employment and for every type of position.

Overcoming these inclinations starts at the top, with a change of corporate culture. Once leadership recognizing that unconscious biases affect all decisions making, they can begin to improve their hiring practices with these three vital steps .


It’s human nature to make unconscious judgments based on personal values and predispositions. That’s why every staff member must acknowledge that bias in the workplace is real. After all, it is an offensive and risky practice, and in most cases, it is unintentionally carried out by good people.

Why does this unfairness exist in the workplace? For a number of reasons.

One cause is insecurity. Often, those in a position to carry out the hiring function feel threatened by a job candidate–perhaps concerned that he/she is smarter, better looking or even more well-connected.

Another possible motive for bias is perceived fit: the decision maker sometimes subconsciously select employees of a similar color, age, gender or background.

Sometimes, previous experiences lead to biased hiring decisions. For example, the belief that extroverts always make the best sales representatives or that long commutes breed excessive absenteeism are not factual, just anecdotal. (In fact, many people benefit from their long commute, using the time to relax, read or meditate.)

Finally, there may be cultural stereotypes that drive hiring decisions; deep seated negativity regarding numerous factors, including race, religion, sexual preference, and physical appearance.

Thankfully, there are tools to measures attitudes that team members may be unwilling or unable to recognize. One popular test is called The IAT (Implicit Association Test.) This online tool, developed by Harvard University, has been used to assess unconscious bias in the military health, education, law enforcement, fortune 500s and the media. Recognizing these inclinations (which are not only company-wide but society-wide) is necessary to establish organization-wide “buy-in” before developing fair hiring solutions.


Every company needs a formal process to address unfair hiring practices (not to mention overall bias in the workplace.) Many firms develop their own framework for educating their employees. Others prefer to sign on with one of the many vendors who offer subscription-based programs, online modules or in-person training programs to help companies lower their risk of hiring bias.

Most importantly, an effective training must provide a thoughtful strategic approach to hiring people in underrepresented groups. The most robust systems appraise and address every aspect of hiring, from the job posting, to the evaluation of resumes, to interviewing and even the negotiation/onboarding process.

Another important subject to be covered in a training program is comprehensive federal and local employment law, especially as it relates to biased hiring practices.

Moving past individual training, a training program should provide team-based hiring strategies complete with checks and balances that protect the organization from litigation. Structured criteria should include a resume screening process, pre-approved interview questions and a panel approach to assessing candidates in a fair, unbiased way.


Like other functions in the workplace, hiring should be audited and improved continuously– not a once-and-done initiative, but an ongoing mission. By reviewing hiring metrics, HR can continually evaluate and raise their standards to ensure ongoing fairness and in the hiring process. Overlooking this vital step will eventually lead to the hiring of less qualified candidates. And this can mean trouble to the bottom line. After all, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, where talent breeds profit, drawing from a balanced workforce is vital to success!

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