How to Address Unconscious Bias in Recruitment


Unconscious bias refers to an individual attributing particular and often stereotypical qualities to another individual based on certain characteristics. These include sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.  

It is important to reaffirm that it not intentional bias, and would actually be deemed inappropriate and unacceptable by the person attributing such qualities. 

Unconscious bias goes hand in hand with affinity bias, which is when an individual unconsciously favours another due to some similarity that they share. Such biases can hinder recruiters from identifying the truly ideal candidate during a recruitment process, hence why it is vital to address the issue. 

How Unconscious Bias Hinders Recruitment 

In recruitment, both unconscious bias and affinity bias can manifest in a recruiter’s preference for one candidate over others by way of them appearing to be a better cultural fit.  

However, such biases based on natural differences or social similarities do not help improve diversity and inclusion, nor do they help identify the best candidate on merit alone. 

Cultural fit is much more than just getting on well with everyone. It is also about how a candidate can benefit an organisation with their personal qualities, with organisations significantly benefitting from a diverse workforce.  


The Benefits of Addressing Unconscious Bias 

Recruiting new talent based on personal similarities caused by both unconscious and affinity bias can be detrimental to an organisation as it restricts diversity. This is true even if the individuals involved in recruiting actively support diversity.  

Diversity throughout the workforce is crucial as each individual has unique experiences and perspectives. Such a blend of unique thoughts and voices within an organisation will enable better problem-solving, strategic planning and innovation. 

There have also been studies that show talented candidates tend to seek out work environments that are rich in diversity. So diversifying your workforce not only helps you build a productive and motivated team, but also provides more opportunities to bring in even more exceptional talent. 


How to Address Unconscious Bias 

The first step in addressing unconscious bias is reviewing all of your job descriptions. They serve to attract candidates so the language used may unconsciously inform certain people or groups that the role isn’t for them. So make sure to craft job descriptions using inclusive language, and promote any diversity and inclusion efforts provided by your organisation. This is where tools like the Gender Decoder can be particularly useful. It’s a free online tool that helps identify and eliminate gender-biased language in job descriptions, ads, and other messaging. This tool is a practical step towards ensuring that your job postings are welcoming to all candidates, regardless of gender. 

The second step is to standardise the interview. Ask questions that relate directly to what defines success in the role, and avoid any questions that could invite unconscious bias. Ensure each candidate receives the same questions in the same order, and they all receive the same work tests. It is also preferable to have multiple interviewers who can provide a variety of perspectives when assessing each candidate. 

If you’re hiring for a new role in 2023, get in touch with our specialist recruitment team here at Exchange Street to help you find the perfect cultural fit to improve and diversify your organisation. 


Exchange Street