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Unconscious Bias in Recruitment

Understanding Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our views, our actions, and our decision-making ability.

According to recent studies in cognitive science, your brain receives 11 million pieces of information every second!  Yet you can only process approximately 40 of those details consciously, meaning that 99% of our data processing is done at a sub-conscious level.  This is great in terms of fight or flight; yes you should run away from that Lion before thinking twice; however, what if your own unconscious biases impact how you interact with certain people?

You’re Biased!

We’re all biased! You, me, your colleagues, friends and relatives all have unconscious bias tendencies.  It’s not a criticism, but it is a fact, a fact that you shouldn’t take lightly.  Without realising, our unconscious bias is shaping the workplaces we manage and the companies we recruit for.  Diversity and inclusion statistics show some alarming trends, all significantly linked to unconscious bias.  Here’s just a few –

  • White women are paid more than black women.
  • Men are paid more than women in almost every industry (for doing the same job).
  • Skinny people make more money than overweight people.
  • Tall men are promoted more than short men.
  • Bald men make less money than men with a full head of hair.
  • Black women are paid more than Latino women.

Sources: BBC News, World Economic Forum

Why does Bias Happen?

Nobody sets out to pay men more than women, or bald men less than men with a full head of hair, yet it happens consistently enough for it to be recognised as a negative workplace statistic.  If a person has an attribute that we find favourable, unconsciously, we see that person in a positive light.  That slight, unconscious bias places certain people on a pedestal and others at a disadvantage, ultimately impacting the decisions you make.

Why does this Matter to You?

Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic across almost every industry, with most businesses now actively setting targets and strategically aiming to create a more diverse, balanced workforce.  As a recruiter, your business plays a fundamental role in the supply of talent to many of these organisations.

Wouldn’t it be great if you and your business were recognised as actively helping your customers with their diversity and inclusion goals?

What if you and your business were recognised for trying to impact real change within your sector?

As a business or recruiter, this is how you begin to differentiate yourself from your competitors, whilst adding real value and purpose to your goals as an agency.

What you Can do About it

  • Education is the most powerful solution to becoming more conscious of the decisions you and your recruiters are making.  Providing training or tasking your consultants with time to research the topic will begin to raise awareness of unconscious bias and why it’s so important to address.
  • Take time to reflect on your business internally and the recruitment process followed when working with clients.  Where key decisions are made about internal promotions, is the decision based upon standardised criteria and measured fairly?  Are candidate applications matched with specified criteria to remove bias from the process?
  • Periodically benchmark stages of the recruitment cycle to better understand how specific groups of candidates faired within your processes.  What is the ratio of men to women shortlisted?  Ratio of men to women placed?  If there is an imbalance, why might that be?
  • Challenge unconscious bias when you encounter it.  Today in your office, someone will make a comment that is stereotypical and judgemental.  Learn to understand where this bias comes from and remind those culpable of their responsibilities as a recruiter.

Addressing Unconscious Bias

It’s been proven in multiple studies that addressing unconscious bias makes for a happier workforce.  As an agency this benefits you internally, but could also benefit your clients (feel free to educate them on unconscious bias!).  Here are some standout benefits to addressing unconscious bias:

  • Diverse and inclusive organisations experience a higher level of innovation and productivity, as well as better employee morale and engagement.
  • 83% of millennial employees are more invested and engaged in their work when they feel their organisation offers a diverse and inclusive environment.

If you want to attract top talent, both internally and to your live jobs, it’s time to take unconscious bias seriously.  Start taking steps today to proactively understand and challenge biases within your sector, the benefits are clear.

For those of you wishing to learn more about your own unconscious biases, we recommend you take the Harvard implicit association test.  This online survey will identify areas in which you’re biased, so that you can begin to become more aware of your unconscious thoughts.



Ricky Geraghty, Director

01707 538 022