Conversations about hiring frequently explore common obstacles between hiring companies and finding the best talent. One of the toughest hurdles to overcome is that of unconscious bias.
What is Unconscious Bias?
Unconscious bias occurs when the brain uses non-objective perceptions or previous decisions to jump to conclusions about a person, object, or situation.
Unconscious bias gave early humans an evolutionary advantage when deciding what plants were safe to eat or learning to avoid large predators. Today, unconscious bias continues to play a life-saving role in many situations – such as when you swerve to avoid a collision while driving, even before your conscious mind registers what’s going on.
Yet unconscious bias can impede our ability to make data-driven decisions, too – including our ability to hire the best candidate for the job.
How Unconscious Bias May Cost You Great Talent
Unconscious bias helps our brains make sense of the world by sorting information quickly – and outside our conscious awareness.
This finely-honed sorting ability becomes a liability, however, when:
- An affinity for your own hometown or college unconsciously leads you to prefer candidates from those backgrounds over others – instead of comparing skill sets.
- Concern about communication or cultural match creates an unconscious aversion to candidates with names or backgrounds that don’t sound like yours.
- A candidate’s hobbies appeal to you – causing you to unconsciously skip over their credentials.
Unconscious bias is particularly difficult to fight because it is unconscious. It operates below the level of our awareness. Since we don’t know which decisions our unconscious bias makes for us, we’re at a disadvantage when it comes to stopping that bias.
Fighting Unconscious Bias: A Quick-Start Guide
Unconscious bias can be difficult to stop on our own, but the case is not hopeless. To address unconscious bias:
- Use tools to screen out information that could trigger biases. Names, locations, schools attended, and similar information can be anonymized. Unconscious bias can’t attach itself to this information if the information isn’t available.
- Embrace cutting-edge AI options. Older applicant tracking systems have few or no tools to help screen out sources of bias. Artificial intelligence, however, can focus on candidates’ skills, allowing for a better match between a role’s demands and a candidate’s true abilities.