Unconscious bias and Recruitment

Richard Thompson




People tend to hire in their own image and, in such cases, their workplaces are full of people who look and behave like their managers.

I run regular training sessions on interview skills. A large part of what I talk about is unconscious bias and how it impacts recruitment. I always explore the idea that creating a diverse team will be hugely beneficial; it allows for more creativity, better innovation; encourages challenge and prevents teams from operating at 'status quo' level. It's obvious that diverse teams bring diverse perspectives. I think it is equally fair to say that diverse teams are probably more challenging to manage because of the range of opinions but this is a small disadvantage when compared to the potential impact a well-performing diverse team can have.

In my training sessions, people see the benefits very quickly; they understand why diversity can bring reward...the theory and research is hard to argue against. But in practice hiring a diverse team is much harder because of unconscious bias. So many people will say to me that to work effectively they "need to like them, need to get on with them" and that they need to "fit it". This is a dangerous approach. If, during a recruitment exercise, we operate on the basis that we need to like the person, we will probably recruit people who are similar to ourselves. Our unconscious biases will step in and direct our decision making process based on criteria that probably have nothing to do with the skills required for the job. Your brain will probably deliver constant messages along the lines of "I like the way he / she looks"; "he / she dresses really well"; "I love his / her accent" etc. You won't be aware that you're doing it but all the time you will be forming your decision as to how much you like that person and therefore how much you want to give them the job. You could completely miss the best candidate because of something as simple as the shoes they were wearing, the school they went to, or the town they grew up in.

Creating diverse teams therefore starts with the recruitment process. Be aware of your biases and push them to one side; notice when someone is different to you. Focus on the criteria required for the role and ask good open competency based questions. And if you don't naturally connect with the person in front of you, don't make the assumption they are not right - consider taking a risk - they might be exactly what your team needs!