Racial bias in the hiring process (and how to fix it)

Photographer: Yoav Hornung | Source: Unsplash

Racial bias is still alive and well in the hiring processes of many organizations. In fact, according to research published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, ethnic minorities not only have to complete on average 50 percent more applications than their white counterparts to get selected for interview, those with ‘Black-sounding’ names receive 50 percent fewer callbacks than those without.

While racial bias (and other forms of subconscious bias) can be hard to pin down, and even harder to correct, there are strategic and procedural moves that companies can implement to mitigate it.

In this article we’ve highlighted some of the most common forms of racial and subconscious bias that occur during the hiring process, and provided concrete steps at each stage which allow hiring managers and employers to provide a fairer playing field for all job candidates, irrespective of their race, background, or gender.

So, what does racial or subconscious bias in the hiring process look like? And what can be done to prevent it?

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Job descriptions

Photographer: Sigmund | Source: Unsplash

A job description can often be a job seeker’s first experience of a company, which is why it needs to create a great first impression and build an accurate representation of the ideals, vision, and values of an organization.

If the language used to advertise a position is non-inclusive, that doesn’t just give one position a bad odour, it makes the whole company stink. Why? Because it represents the sort of working environment candidates can come to expect; organizations that use non-inclusive language in their job advertisements quickly build homogenous, non-inclusive workforces which isn’t just bad news for minority groups, it’s also bad for business.

Terms such as “Whitelist”, “Blacklist”, “Master/slave”, and ‘Brown bag’ are still frequently seen in both job descriptions and workplace documentation. While the use of such out-dated and inappropriate language may be unintentional on the side of the recruiter, the effect on potential applicants is the same as if it were intended: applicants from minority backgrounds do not apply for these positions.

How to make job descriptions inclusive

  1. Replace language that excludes or offends specific groups with language that includes everybody. It’s also important not to forget the importance of adopting gender-neutral terminology in order to appeal to the broadest possible range of applicants.
  2. Use a tool that removes biased language. Check out Ongig’s Text Analyzer, Textio, Gender Decoder.
  3. Opt for skills challenges instead of traditional job application letters and CVs. Using tools like GapJumpers employers can create bespoke tests that mimic the challenges of the job without revealing any information about the candidate’s background or identity.

Candidate screening

Photographer: Amy Hirschi | Source: Unsplash

As we’ve seen, having a “white-sounding” name can be hugely advantageous in the job application process, with those who land in that category not just having a higher chance of receiving a callback, but also requiring significantly less experience than a Person of Colour to gain an interview for the same position. Women face similar hurdles: in a study of identical CVs, 79 percent of candidates with a man’s name were moved to the next stage of the application process, versus only 49 percent of applicants with a woman’s name.

For recruiters, this unconscious bias can be easily addressed by adopting some of the many blind resume tools which remove names and other identifying pieces of information from a person’s application.

Pinpoint - anonymizes applications and resumes to ensure applicants are assessed based exclusively on their experience and skills.

Blendoor - a ratings and analytics platform that aligns business strategy with core values of fairness and equity.

Entelo Diversity - allows recruiters to hide and anonymize candidate information commonly associated with different forms of bias before executing a search or sharing a review queue with a hiring manager.

Job interviews

Photographer: Memento Media | Source: Unsplash

As humans, we all have unique values, opinions, and experiences which subconsciously shape our opinions about people. This is why the interview part of the job application process–when we are sitting directly across from someone–is perhaps the most difficult element from which to completely remove any type of racial or subconscious bias.

When left unchecked, many of us (including women) not only think that men are more competent and hirable than women, even when they have identical qualifications, research also shows that race directly impacts our perception of a person’s competency to do a good job.

Accents also play a major role. A study on sources of bias in employment interviews found that an applicant with an ethnic-sounding name who spoke with an accent was viewed less positively by interviewers than an applicant with an ethnic-sounding name who did not have an accent.

Despite these commonplace prejudices, even in a scenario like a job interview there are still steps that can be taken to remove or minimize racial and gender bias.

  1. Standardize your interview questions

Irrespective of who is sitting in front of you, make sure to ask them the same questions as the person who came before and the person who comes after them. This gives all candidates an equal chance to shine and ensures that each applicant is evaluated against the same criteria.

  1. Perform blind interviews

Thanks to tools like Interviewing.io, employees can now offer candidates interviews conducted via instant messaging and/or using voice-masking technology to conceal any revealing characteristics like gender, race, or accent which might–due to the unconscious bias of the recruiter–otherwise hinder their application.

  1. Create a diverse interview panel

Setting up a panel that includes a diverse set of colleagues ensures any personal unconscious biases are mitigated or challenged and enables the team to consider all applicants fairly, irrespective of race, gender, or background.

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Removing racial bias from the hiring process is no small challenge. It will take conscious effort from hiring partners and employers, the adoption of the latest tools and technology, and a determination from recruiters to think outside of the traditional pathways into a job if we are going to see a fairer employment landscape. Employers will need to be vigilant and strategic if they hope to diversify their workforce, and recruiters need to consistently publish inclusive job advertisements, enforce blind application submissions, and offer blind interviews if any significant progress is going to be made.

What are your thoughts on racial bias in the hiring process? Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

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