Hiring Bias Elimination: Build a Diverse and Dynamic Workforce

Hiring Bias Elimination: Build a Diverse and Dynamic Workforce

When recruiters and hiring managers unconsciously favor certain candidates due to hiring bias, they exclude qualified individuals who don’t fit their preconceived notions of what a "good" candidate looks like. This can perpetuate systemic biases and create workplaces that lack diversity of thought, experience, and perspective.

Organizations that lack diversity tend to struggle with innovation, creativity, and problem-solving. On the other hand, inclusive teams are over 39% more productive. Therefore, eliminating biases in the hiring process can build a dynamic workforce that is capable of maximizing innovation and driving financial growth.

In this article, we help you identify hiring biases during each stage of the hiring process and outline strategies to eliminate them. We also highlight real-world examples of companies that have implemented diversity initiatives and demonstrated the positive impact on innovation and business performance.

Table of contents:

What is hiring bias?

Hiring bias means relying on opinions, inclinations, and unfair standards when evaluating a candidate’s fit for a role. The following outlines various types of hiring bias. These biases are generally unconscious, meaning individuals may not be aware of their own prejudiced beliefs influencing their decisions.

  • Affinity. This type of bias, also known as similarity bias, describes the tendency to prefer candidates who share one’s characteristics, such as background or work experience.
  • Confirmation. Confirmation bias involves focusing on information that supports existing opinions or beliefs. For example, a hiring manager who believes that Ivy League graduates are the most qualified may be more likely to consider candidates from those schools.
  • First impression. This bias occurs when we form an opinion of someone based on initial interactions, which can lead to hasty judgments about a candidate’s qualifications or suitability for a role.
  • Demographic. Demographic bias occurs when a hiring manager favors or discriminates against a candidate based on their demographic characteristics, such as beauty, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation.
  • Gut feeling. This type of bias is based on an intuitive feeling rather than objective criteria. It can lead to decisions that are not based on the candidate’s actual qualifications or abilities.

Implicit biases can affect hiring decisions because they influence how hiring managers perceive and assess candidates. This can lead to a lack of diversity in the workforce and limit opportunities for qualified candidates who don’t fit these unfair standards.

Identifying bias in the hiring process

A fair hiring process creates a diverse and inclusive workplace. Despite the best intentions, unconscious bias can creep into the recruitment process. In this section, we will identify potential biases that may arise at each step of the hiring process and provide actionable ways to avoid them.

Job descriptions

A biased job description can discourage qualified candidates from applying and lead to hiring the wrong candidate. One of the ways to avoid bias is to use inclusive, gender-neutral language in the job listing. Gendered language can create bias against certain demographic characteristics and discourage otherwise qualified candidates from applying.

Another example is industry jargon, which can exclude candidates from other industries and similar fields. Use easy-to-understand language instead, allowing a wider range of candidates to apply, even if they don’t have experience in a specific industry.

When listing job qualifications, highlight skills and competencies required for the position rather than specific degrees. This can prevent confirmation bias, where the hiring manager believes that an applicant with that degree is the best candidate for the job.

Resumes and applications

Traditional resumes can create biases during the recruitment process, possibly leading to discrimination against certain job applicants. For instance, someone’s name can affect their chances of being selected for an interview, as some names may be associated with a particular race, gender, or ethnicity.

This is where affinity bias can also come into play: The reviewer may favor candidates with similar backgrounds, education, or experience, even if those factors are irrelevant to the job requirements.

Interview process

Unstructured interviews often rely on an assessment of culture fit, a candidate’s ability to fit in with the company’s culture. Unfortunately, this can lead to an interviewer going with their “gut feeling” rather than assessing the candidate’s skills and competencies, which can result in bias.

Conversely, a structured interview process involves a standardized set of questions to prevent unconscious bias. Unlike unstructured interviews, where the flow of the conversation depends on the interviewer, structured job interviews ask the same set of questions of all candidates, setting a more fair candidate assessment process across the board.

The role of hiring managers and HR professionals

HR professionals and hiring managers are largely responsible for ensuring that the organization’s workforce is diverse and inclusive. To ensure this dynamic, they need to be well-equipped with knowledge and continuously promote DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) throughout the hiring process.

Training programs, seminars, and courses, such as Coursera’s courses on unconscious bias, can be a great way for hiring managers and HR professionals to understand and mitigate the impacts of bias on the hiring process. Other benefits of these courses include creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce, improving the quality of hires, and enhancing an organization’s reputation.

Implementing DEI initiatives into each stage of the hiring process also helps avoid bias. These initiatives can include training teams on diversity in the workplace and conducting regular reviews of the hiring process to identify and resolve any biases.

Assessment and decision-making tools

To improve the hiring process and mitigate unconscious bias, consider using the following assessment and decision-making tools. Adopting these methods can standardize evaluations and promote fair hiring decisions.

  • Online assessments. Online tests can be tailored to assess specific skills and competencies, ensuring candidates are evaluated based on their abilities rather than personal characteristics like gender, sexual orientation, age, race, or ethnicity. For instance, a skill-based test for a software development role might ask the candidate to complete a coding challenge, which can be objectively evaluated based on the quality of the code.
  • Networking platforms. Platforms such as LinkedIn offer an excellent opportunity to build a diverse pool of candidates from different fields, backgrounds, experiences, and demographics. Posting open positions on these platforms and using inclusive language in job descriptions can help organizations attract diverse applicants and improve their chances of finding the best candidate for the job.
  • Decision matrices. Consider using a hiring rubric to evaluate applicants based on predefined criteria, such as skills and experience, to compare and rank candidates objectively.

Bias elimination strategies

Eliminating common hiring biases can foster the creation of a diverse team and can bring new ideas, perspectives, and insights to your organization. Below are some strategies to eliminate bias during the hiring process and promote an inclusive work environment.

Redefine culture fit

Culture fit has traditionally been used as a criterion for evaluating candidates during the hiring process. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to a lack of diversity and inclusion, as it tends to favor candidates who share the same backgrounds and experiences as those already in the organization.

Instead, companies have started looking for values fit or culture adds to encompass the values and goals of the company in serving its customers rather than focusing on candidates’ personalities or backgrounds. This broader understanding of culture values diversity and can lead to a more inclusive workplace.

Assemble diverse hiring teams

Hiring teams should include individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives. This helps counteract personal and collective biases that can influence the evaluation of candidates.

By assembling a diverse hiring team, organizations can ensure that various perspectives are considered during the hiring process, leading to fair candidate evaluation, which can increase workforce diversity and inclusiveness.

Use skill-based hiring practices

A skill-based hiring approach allows the interviewer to evaluate candidates based on their abilities to perform the job functions rather than their educational qualifications or work history. Skill-based assessments like those provided by TestGorilla focus on evaluating candidates’ practical skills and capabilities rather than their industry experience or personal information, driving toward a fair and objective selection process.

Try blind recruitment

An effective solution to avoid unconscious bias is implementing blind recruitment practices. This involves having a team member scan resumes first and block off information like gender, name, and interests before documents are reviewed by an HR professional.

Some AI tools can anonymize candidate information, but they must be set up correctly to prevent unintended bias.

Standardize unbiased interview questions

Create a set of questions to evaluate a candidate’s experience and how they would respond in various scenarios, keeping the process consistent for each interviewee. This way, the interviewer can assess the candidate’s skills and competencies based on their responses to the same set of questions, minimizing the risk of personal biases.

These questions should assess competencies and job fit without bias. An example of an unbiased interview question is, “Can you share a time when you had to overcome a challenge within your team?”

This question assesses the candidate’s teamwork and problem-solving skills without making assumptions or invoking stereotypes about their background or identity. It’s also open-ended, allowing the candidate to showcase their experience with a comprehensive picture of their abilities.

Diversify your recruitment channels

Instead of relying solely on common recruitment techniques, such as job postings on your company website or job boards, you can explore other avenues to source a wider range of applicants. Posting job openings on social media platforms like Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter) can help you tap into new talent pools.

Attending job fairs and other recruitment events can also be a great way to meet a diverse range of candidates. You can connect in person with candidates with different backgrounds, skill sets, and experience levels and provide a more personal touch to your recruitment efforts.

Leveraging technology to eliminate hiring bias

Technological tools and platforms, such as applicant tracking systems (ATS), have been designed to support unbiased hiring. An ATS is often equipped with blind screening features that anonymize resumes by removing identifying information such as name, age, gender, and race. This approach lets hiring managers focus solely on candidates' qualifications, skills, and experiences.

AI-based assessment tools are another way to evaluate candidates based on skills and potential rather than background. For example, Pymetrics is a platform that uses behavioral science and AI to help companies make better hiring decisions. It offers games that assess job candidates’ cognitive and emotional traits, such as attention to detail and problem-solving skills, to help recruiters and hiring managers make more informed decisions.

Using AI in the assessment process helps ensure results are objective, unbiased, and data-driven, making the hiring process more efficient, effective, and fair for all candidates.

However, HR technology is not infallible. Regular audits are necessary to ensure that the technology is functioning as desired.

For instance, Amazon’s AI-driven recruitment tool was biased against women, as it had been trained mostly on men’s resumes. This underscores the importance of frequent reviews to detect any potential biases.

Successful diversity and inclusion initiatives

To illustrate the power of implementing DEI initiatives in the workplace, below are three case studies from companies that have successfully integrated practices that reduce or eliminate hiring bias from their organizational culture.

Microsoft

According to Microsoft’s 2023 Diversity & Inclusion Report, the company has implemented employee resource groups (ERGs): voluntary, employee-led groups that aim to create a sense of community and support members who share common backgrounds, interests, or experiences. Examples include the Black and African American ERG and the Women at Microsoft ERG.

Microsoft has also created racial equity initiatives. One of their goals is to double the number of Black and African American employees in the U.S. by 2025 by increasing recruitment efforts in underrepresented communities.

Microsoft is committed to pay equity, meaning employees are paid fairly regardless of gender or ethnicity. The company has been actively hiring those with self-identified disabilities as well, and has developed accessibility tools to help them be more productive at work.

Due to these initiatives, Microsoft has seen a 31.2% increase in women in its global workforce and achieved equal pay for men and women. A substantial 84.6% of employees also demonstrate allyship, which means supporting and advocating for all workers.

These efforts have created a more inclusive and supportive working environment at Microsoft, and helped the company attract and retain top talent from diverse backgrounds.

Abbott

Healthcare and medical devices company, Abbott, has implemented 10 employee networks that provide mentorship and professional development opportunities for workers. They’re also developing a STEM program providing internships for more than 100,000 young people, 50% of whom belong to underrepresented groups.

Abbott has also partnered with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to improve and enhance cybersecurity education and coursework. This helps develop their talent pool while providing opportunities for underrepresented communities.

These efforts have yielded impressive results: a 21% increase in Abbott’s women leaders from 2021 to 2022, a 55% growth in their disability network, and a 16% increase in women in STEM. Abbott’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity is creating a fair and equitable workplace for all employees.

Airbnb

Airbnb has taken several measures to foster diversity and inclusivity in its workplace. The company supports organizations like the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and Latinas in Tech, and partners with women-owned financial services firms.

They also encourage a sense of belonging for workers by supporting 19 employee resource groups . The company has expanded its diversity and bias training, including inclusive interview practices for hiring managers.

As a result, 48.3% of Airbnb’s workforce identify as women as of 2022, and 15% are underrepresented minorities. The company has set a goal to reach 20% of underrepresented minorities by 2025 thanks to a structured diversity plan that includes team participation goals for diversity and belonging skill-building activities, such as a specific attendance rate for their Blocking Bias and Allyship courses.

Impact of diversity initiatives

Diversity initiatives impact a company’s culture, team dynamics, and bottom line.

According to a Pew Research study, 72% of employees feel that policies to ensure all employees are treated fairly in hiring, pay, or promotions positively impact where they work. Other Deloitte research finds that diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time.

By addressing hiring biases, companies can create a more inclusive workplace environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and success.

Maintaining a diverse workforce

Creating an inclusive work environment promotes a sense of belonging and respect among all employees. Here are a few ways you can maintain a diverse workforce.

  • Foster a supportive work environment. Create a work culture where all employees feel valued by implementing policies like flexible work arrangements and diversity training.
  • Make hiring practices inclusive. Examples include ensuring job postings use inclusive language, and partnering with organizations that support underrepresented groups.
  • Continuous assessment. Use metrics to refine and enhance inclusivity efforts. For example, if the turnover rate among employees from underrepresented groups is higher than for others, find out why, and use that data to develop retention strategies that support them (such as career advancement opportunities).

Build a dynamic workforce with Upwork

Eliminating hiring bias through fair hiring practices and DEI initiatives contributes to the long-term growth of an organization by fostering an inclusive and supportive workforce. In turn, diverse teams lead to better decision-making and employee satisfaction, ultimately improving a company’s reputation and bottom line.

Hiring a diverse team can bring in new perspectives that can help your business grow. Upwork is an excellent place to find skilled professionals from different backgrounds and cultures.

Consider hiring HR professionals who can help you create a more equitable workplace. And if you’re interested in roles dedicated to promoting fair workplace practices, browse HR positions that align with your values and contribute to building a more inclusive working environment.

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Hiring Bias Elimination: Build a Diverse and Dynamic Workforce
The Upwork Team

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