Unconscious Biases in the Hiring Process: What Startups—and Everyone—Needs to Know

Biases are lenses or filters through which we process information and make judgements. Everyone has them and they influence how we see the world. Conscious bias uses information from a person’s developed value system and awareness to evaluate situations. Conscious bias is often the determining factor in allowing us to make decisions. Unconscious bias, on the other hand, refers to innate snap judgements occurring outside of our control and are often associated with discrimination.

Unconscious biases can have unintended influence on the hiring process because they can cause us to make prejudice decisions in favor of one group, which is bad for everyone involved. Why? Because unconscious biases in the hiring process can result in an exclusive, uniform work environment and unknowingly shape an organization’s culture. The benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace include: varied discussion, higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, productivity, engaged debates, etc., all of which can lead to more innovation, resulting in better products and solutions.

Awareness of unconscious bias and the various strains of bias is the first step in addressing and confronting unconscious bias in the hiring process. Below I have defined and described three common unconscious biases all hiring managers should be aware of when evaluating candidates:

  • Availability Bias is using immediate, or mentally available, examples when evaluating something and making a decision. In practice, availability bias is seen when HR teams repeatedly hire from a particular company and/or school because they have had other successful hires from that company/school.
  • Confirmation Bias is creating a mental hypothesis and then searching for information to prove the hypothesis. In practice, confirmation bias is commonly seen when we make a judgement about where a candidate went to school, and look for information during the interview to confirm their qualifications.
  • Affinity Bias is showing a preference for candidates who are similar to ourselves or when we are more comfortable with people of similar backgrounds. In practice, affinity bias is when we hire a candidate who reminds us of a ‘younger version of ourselves.’

While addressing unconscious bias can be done through education, introspection and awareness, the best way to combat unconscious bias is to approach every individual with curiosity. Hiring teams have the opportunity to make a significant positive contribution to their workplace and make room for diversity and inclusion. By placing proper training and structures in place, organizations can minimize unconscious bias and promote every aspect of company growth.  
Thanks to She Geeks Out Power Hour Workshop: How to write an inclusive job description for inspiring my ideas! How does your company avoid unconscious biases in your hiring processes? Let us know @GreentownLabs!