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Omni’s Head of Management Training, Suzanne Browne, recently took part in a Hatching Ideas webinar that explored the role of bias in talent attraction and recruitment and what can be done to address and eliminate it. Here, Suzanne covers some of the key takeaways and learnings from the discussion.

Omni’s Resourcing and Talent Planning Survey 2020, produced in partnership with the CIPD, revealed that organisations are casting the net wider in a bid to secure talent. Diversity is key to this, with 41% stating they have recruited a more diverse workforce over the last 12 months compared with the previous year. While only 52% have a formal D&I strategy in place, most are taking some action to recruit diverse candidates. 

A large part of this is recognising and reducing bias, which businesses are becoming more attuned to. While bias permeates every stage of the employee lifecycle, from attraction to progression and retention, the focus for organisations looking to broaden their talent pools must start with the  hiring process. 

Where’s the bias? 

In short, the recruitment process is full of bias, so let’s break it down. 

  1. Role and job specifications

Status quo bias means a reluctance to change. It comes into play in recruitment when hiring managers and recruiters opt for candidates who are similar to the types of people already working in the organisation or tailor a job description based on the skills and attributes of the last person in the role. 

Mitigating this bias

  • Essential and desirable criteria. Analyse all requirements in a job description objectively and identify any areas that could potentially be biased towards or against a particular group of people. Pay special attention to  desirable criteria and remember these elements are a ‘nice to have’ – can some be removed to attract a broader range of candidates? 
  • Biased language. Remember that certain words and phrases can appeal or repel. Run your job specs by several people in your organisation and get their opinion on the language and tone. There are also lots of tools to use – or try this free online tool that highlights potentially gender-biased language in job adverts. 
  • Flexibility. Providing greater flexibility regarding how a role is performed, whether through a hybrid working model or alternative hours, can help attract a wider range of candidates.
  1. Attraction and Search

At this stage of the recruitment process, we are likely to see source bias, which is the tendency to add greater weight to information from a source that we are familiar with. Source bias goes hand-in-hand with affinity bias which sees managers and recruiters hiring people who are like them. The difficulty comes when this familiarity leads to a candidate progressing without challenge or scrutiny. 

Mitigating this bias

  • Be Specific. Setting goals on diverse shortlisting and hiring is crucial for any progress to be made. Such goals  should be agreed upon and shared with the wider talent team to ensure they become ingrained in the process.
  • Share. Including your commitment to diversity in all job adverts and on your website sends a clear message that everyone is welcome to apply. 
  • Accessibility. Can all potential candidates actually apply for your role? Review the accessibility of your website and other application processes to make sure no one is being left out. 
  • Measurement. Measuring candidate diversity at each stage of the attraction process helps to highlight where things are potentially going wrong so that you can address them.
  1. Shortlisting 

Confirmation bias can come into effect when shortlisting, which is a tendency to look for or interpret information that confirms existing thoughts and beliefs while ignoring those that contradict this view. Shortlisting also sees the contrasting effect, whereby CVs and applications are compared to one another rather than the actual criteria on the job spec.

Mitigating this bias

  • ‘Blind’ decision-making. Many organisations are starting to remove key identifying information from CVs and applications (name, date of birth, gender, education establishments etc.) to ensure all decisions are based purely on the candidate’s skills and attributes. 
  • Framework. An agreed scoring or grading framework for candidates goes a long way in eliminating confirmation bias. 
  • Evaluation. Incorporating such elements as blind screening and a scoring system will help, but it’s crucial to measure whether they are working. If you are still getting the same type of applicants making the shortlist, the process needs to be revisited. 
  1. Interviewing/Assessment

The halo effect can come into play at the interview stage, which sees the hirer let one attractive attribute in a candidate colour their view of the candidate’s overall skills and competencies. In short, they become fixated on the one box that a candidate ticks. 

Attribution error can also occur, which is a tendency to relate behaviours to personality rather than the situation the person might be in. In recruitment, it can lead to employers hiring someone based on factors that are not linked to their skills, but more often, it means dismissing someone based on a perceived negative personality trait. For example, if someone is late to an interview, the assumption may be that they are tardy, without considering the variety of external factors that might have played a part.

Mitigating this bias

  • Diverse interview panel. Stop conducting one-on-one interviews and instead implement a panel of diverse individuals to ensure objectivity. 
  • Set questions. Agree on a set of structured questions and scoring system that is the same for every candidate and do not deviate from these initial questions. 
  • Training. Ensure all interviewers are properly trained on how to conduct a fair and inclusive  interview. 
  • Measure. A common theme throughout is continuous evaluation to ensure any action you take is effective, and any pain points can be identified and addressed. 

It’s clear that, when it comes to bias in the recruitment process, a lot can go wrong in the early stages that will impact an organisation’s employee lifecycle. Omni’s Recruitment Effectiveness Assessment (REA) was designed to help businesses develop truly inclusive resourcing strategies that are aligned to business success. Using an objective scoring system, the REA helps organisations identify which areas of their talent acquisition strategy require attention and the steps they need to take to ensure future success. 

Discover more about our Recruitment Training here. Visit the Hatching Ideas website to request the full webinar recording featuring Suzanne Browne.