To truly make a difference when it comes to diverse hiring, we need to accept that our biases exist and do what we can to negate them.
I am biased. I don’t want to be, but I can’t help it. There are some groups of people I unconsciously prefer thanks to the messages that I have absorbed from the world around me. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it applies to virtually everyone on the planet. We all have biases stemming from our brains and their tendency to categorise things. But that’s something that can be difficult to admit, especially in the world of recruitment.
When we work to improve diversity and diverse hiring practices, we tend to come at it from the assumption that we’re not biased. You’ll read plenty of articles talking about the importance of building multicultural hiring teams or eliminating practices that unfairly favour one demographic over another. However, none of us are coming from an unbiased place, and it’s time we understood that.
This doesn’t mean we should just accept our prejudices and move on. If we are to work towards a more diverse workforce – and we absolutely should, as I will detail later – we need to understand our biases in order to negate them. When I notice myself preferring one candidate over another, it’s important to interrogate why that is. That way I can ensure I’m recruiting the very best people, not just the ones I’m irrationally biased towards.
The diversity “problem”
The issue I see at the moment is that a lot of organisations regard diversity as a challenge, a problem to be solved, as opposed to a potential asset and strength for the business. This applies to hiring practices as well. As much as I believe it’s morally important to champion diversity, it’s also the key to unlocking a business’ strengths.
There’s often an attitude brought on by the idea of employment “quotas”, that hiring a diverse workforce means taking people on “just because” they’re from a minority group; the implication being that they wouldn’t have been hired if it wasn’t for their minority status. However, I find the opposite is true. Companies are missing out on the best people because biased recruiters discard them in favour of candidates who look like them.
A heterogeneous workforce is one that brings a myriad of experiences, opinions, backgrounds and strengths. It is more agile, more adaptable, and more open to change and fresh ideas; all features that only serve to benefit a business in this fast-paced, ever-developing world of ours. This shouldn’t be seen as a challenge to overcome but as an opportunity to take advantage of.
But don’t take my word for it; this is something strongly backed-up by data. The Harvard Business Review studied venture capital firms and found that the more diverse companies were, the better they performed. McKinsey also found that companies focusing the most on diversity and inclusion were 36 percent more likely to have above-average financial returns for their industry.
Beyond these hard numbers are the lesser-seen (but just as important) effects of diversity on morale. An inclusive company is more likely to find its employees take pride in working there, and diversity is key to retaining millennial talent. It should be clear that a heterogeneous workforce is a strength that businesses should be proud of, not some kind of politically correct quota to begrudgingly meet.
How recruitment bias manifests
As a recruiter, you tend to very quickly notice patterns in the type of people who apply for particular jobs. If you have a data scientist role, for example, most of the applicants will likely be male, with the inverse being true for personal assistant roles. Even if you have no biases whatsoever before starting out in recruitment, they can easily manifest thanks to this.
When considering applicants for a role that has a history of having a very specific profile, be it gender or otherwise, when you come across a candidate who does not fit that brief you find yourself holding them to a higher standard. You assume there must be something particularly relevant about their experience that prompted them to apply.
There’s no prejudice involved here, it’s just a matter of our brains recognising a pattern and focusing more strongly on the aspects that break said pattern. Combined with a tendency of notoriously time-poor recruiters to stick with ‘what we know’, this can lead to our hiring decisions being laden with assumptions and unconscious bias.
How do we tackle this?
Now we come onto the most important aspect of this discussion: how to tackle bias. It’s important to remember that we can always take action to negate or alter even our most unconscious prejudices. It’s not enough to simply think “well, it’s unconscious bias so I can’t help it” and leave it there; if we want to improve diversity in the workplace, we need to change the way we recruit altogether.
The first step is to make an active effort to unpack our processes. How do we approach people, and why? When we glance at a CV and decide “no, this person will not be successful”, we need to then ask ourselves the follow-up question of: “How and why did I come to this conclusion?” Only by constant questioning of ourselves and our processes will we be able to hold ourselves and our organisations truly accountable.
However, another option is to take bias out of the equation altogether. At Allen Recruitment Consulting, tech plays a big part in our process. We use boolean searching to actively filter and cherry-pick certain keywords and skills on people’s CVs, meaning we can shortlist the best candidates without their race, gender, sexuality, age or even their names being a factor at all.
Our automated process ensures our initial approach to every potential candidate is the same and utterly uncoloured by bias or preconception. We understand that humans will inherently have bias; since the dawn of time our brains have been hardwired to notice patterns and distrust change for self-preservation purposes. Our use of technology eliminates this from the selection process and ensures everyone gets ample opportunity to be presented to recruiters.
If you’d like to see how our approach could help you develop a strong, diverse and talented team, you can contact us here. We can make sure you access the top talent without bias coming into play at all, ensuring you have the pick of the very best candidates.