The majority of decision-making happens unconsciously, where prejudices, stereotypes, and taught beliefs find their way into that process. While we may think that we are making conscious decisions, our conscious mind only sees the tip of the iceberg and our judgment is most likely biased. This is what is known as unconscious bias.

Recruiters, have to make a lot of consequential decisions about people on a daily basis, and often within a short time frame — may it be while checking CV’s, conducting interviews or leading feedback discussions with others. It is for that reason, that bias management belongs in every recruiter’s toolkit.

How to do that? To start with, here are four basic principles, which can help with managing your unconscious bias on a daily basis.

1. Focus on facts & evidence

It’s simple: The more facts there are, the fewer assumptions one has to make and the fewer biases sneak in.

That means, turning information into facts by gathering evidence and that already starts in the creation of a role: What are the relevant qualifications and WHY are they relevant?

Here is a typical example: National language skills. Ask the team about the specific situations in which national language skills are necessary for a role and what the consequences would be of not having them. You might find that speaking the national language is highly relevant. Or you might find that the requirement was added out of a habit or on the assumption that it would be helpful, despite any actual evidence. As a consequence, you are not only missing out on great applicants but you might also, without valid reasons, favour a candidate for qualifications that are not relevant for the role.

2. Check and correct your own bias

It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or how “good” of a person you are — everyone is subjected to the stereotypes and beliefs of the society they grow up in. To say ‘I am objective’ is an unrealistic expectation, leading to denial — but to say ‘I am biased’, actually opens the door to further explore questions, which so far have been hidden from your consciousness:

‘What is my bias?’ — A good starting point in checking your own bias, is to do the Implicit Association test, created by researchers at Harvard University. Also, the daily practice of accepting your thoughts rather than suppressing them and observing them with curiosity rather than with judgement helps to really understand any underlying biases.

‘How can I correct my bias?’ — Knowing the different forms of biases, helps to find the right strategy. Here is an example: The availability bias — the tendency, to take the example that first comes into mind, as a valid representation of reality. For instance, in US film & television, roles such as doctors are more often written as male characters. As a consequence, a male example representing that profession might be more available and could bias you to think, that doctors are typically male. In reality, more women are enrolled in US med schools than men.

Having the awareness of how biases work, helps to find countermeasures, such as consuming media with more diverse representation.

3. Allocate enough resources for critical decisions

Going back to the beginning, the reason why our conscious mind only sees the tip of the iceberg is that conscious decision making is an energy-draining process. Without unconscious decision-making, our brains would go into overdrive before we even had our first coffee in the morning.

That is why bias management is not a light add-on to your day but requires planning and time. Make sure to consciously allocate energy to decision-making processes such as feedback discussions, writing up assessments or checking CVs.

4. Monitor yourself

Have you ever asked someone to proofread a text and although you read through it a million times and worked on it for weeks, they are still able to point out obvious mistakes? That is because people have blind spots and no matter how much you try to see your own errors, at a certain point you need another person’s perspective to complete the picture.

So to make sure that your blindspot is covered, you can occasionally ask colleagues to sit in interviews or to review a decision you made on a candidate.

Finally, share learnings about your biases and how to correct them, in the same way, that you would share learnings about an employer branding campaign. Normalize the process of bias management and make it explicit, so that it becomes a part of every recruiters’ toolkit.

For more information on biases and how to correct them, here are some useful resources:

  • Ted Talk: How to Outsmart Your Own Unconscious Bias
  • Book: Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
  • Podcast: Why your unconscious bias training keep failing

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