How to avoid bias in recruitment and management

February 13, 2017 Geoffroy De Lestrange

There are two kinds of bias we can come across: conscious and unconscious. Both of them can affect our personal choices in all life, but it can be particularly problematic in the workplace. So, what’s the difference between them?

Conscious bias refers to those who discriminate on purpose, and of course, any employee who does that in the workplace should be condemned by law. Unconscious bias, however, is when someone unknowingly discriminates against others due to their subconscious preferences – something that can be a big problem if you’re in charge of recruiting or managing employees. You might have people in HR, recruiting or another department who do not consciously try to discriminate, and if you tell them what they’re doing is unfair they probably didn’t realise it and might be ready to change. So how can you do this?

When recruiting…

If we take recruiting as an example, recruiters can first sort through a mass amount of CVs by using HR software to apply filters for qualifications and be left with those that match. Then this can be followed up with something like behavioural assessments.

If the recruiter is manually going through a pile of printed CVs, there is a chance they may see someone’s name, address, gender, or other factors and dismiss them too quickly due to unconscious bias, so a filtering process through software can prevent this.

From there, it’s a matter of getting more people involved in the hiring process – more people reviewing the CVs and candidate interviews brings down the possibility of unconscious bias. It also means you have fewer candidates to manage and can spend more time on each one. If getting all the necessary people in a room for an interview is tough, then make use of technology. For example, you could dial in a remote team member via Skype or a similar service so they can be involved in the interview, or use video interview with recording based on a standard set of questions.

When managing…

When it comes to managing and promoting, it’s a matter of managers knowing who is doing a good job. Bias may occur here if only one person is evaluating an employee’s work, so again you need to lower the risk of unfair evaluation.

There’s been a lot of talk in the past year about annual appraisals being a thing of the past. They do have their place still – but if you want to gather accurate information on an area like work quality, you need different and more frequent ways to assess this.  Again, having more people involved can help; you need more dialogue than just a two-way conversation between manager and employee. Why not look at doing regular peer reviews? Or add gamification elements like badges for good work?

Likewise, if you have proper HR software tools that aid with succession planning, performance, and more, the software system will also give suggestions for who may be ready for a promotion, who could be trained to be a manager, and more. The software does not discriminate, which is why gathering the correct information on people is so important.

Don’t assume the problem

So the analytics that HR software allows can also help solve discrimination issues. Educating anyone involved with recruiting, selecting, managing and evaluating people on discrimination is definitely a pre-requisite, and HR will always try to avoid discrimination, but analytics can help understand where issues are occurring.

For instance, let’s say a business looks at data on salary differences in its company between men and women, and finds that a particular department has a low percentage of women in managerial positions. The snap reaction may be to promote more women to manager in that department, but a look deeper at the data may find that actually the proportion of women in the department is also lower compared to the rest of the company, and so actually they need to hire more women in that area. If promoting, it’s a matter of finding the best profiles within the pool of talent you want to promote, but in reality, it’s the recruiting process that has to change.

In avoiding unconscious bias, bringing more intelligence and precise data into the recruiting or managing process will find where the problem truly lies and bring about a better solution. The main things to remember are to make everyone involved in hiring and managing aware of the risk of discrimination with proper training, to automate the simplest processes of recruiting and managing to reduce the number of chances for discrimination to happen, and to multiply the types of feedback you get on employees.


About the Author

Geoffroy De Lestrange

Product Marketing & Communication Director EMEA at Cornerstone OnDemand

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