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Research shows that one of the biggest obstacles to assembling diverse teams is that the hiring process is riddled with unconscious bias. If you’re looking to improve representation in your workforce – and demonstrate to your employees and other stakeholders that you’re committed to diversity – you need to understand and address this issue.

Unconscious biases, also known as implicit biases, are underlying attitudes and stereotypes we unconsciously attribute to another person or group of people that affect how we understand and engage with them. Interestingly, unconscious bias is often at odds with our own conscious values and standards. We may think we are open-minded, and we may be determined to select the most qualified candidate, however, behavioral science demonstrates that merit is often set aside in favor of those who fit some group stereotypes of those “likely to succeed” in our society. If left unchecked, unconscious biases can affect the judgment of people involved in the hiring and performance management process – and hamper corporate diversity goals.

While we can’t completely eliminate our unconscious biases, we can strive to understand them and improve our practices.  If you are involved with the hiring process or performance management – or if you are involved with measuring or disclosing progress on your DEI commitments – be prepared to help your team recognize & counteract these eight common types of bias:

  1. Affinity bias is one of the most common biases. It refers to our tendency to gravitate toward people like ourselves. It happens when we favor a candidate who shares a characteristic with us. It may feel easier to relate to a candidate if we both attended the same university or grew up in the same hometown.
  2. Conformity bias is the human tendency to behave like those around us, rather than use personal judgement for making decisions. During a debrief, interviewers on a panel may withhold their individual observations that are contrary to the feedback of others in order to conform to the opinions of the majority.
  3. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on, and remember information that aligns with our preconceived opinions. If we have to make a judgement about a candidate, we subconsciously look for evidence to back up our own opinions. The danger of confirmation bias in recruitment is that our own judgement could be inaccurate and result in the loss of a great candidate for the job.
  4. Beauty bias happens when we judge people, especially women, based on how attractive we think they are. Candidates perceived as physically attractive can be viewed positively and treated more favorably. This bias extends well beyond recruiting into other privileges, such as higher pay and promotion rates.
  5. Halo and Horns effect is a cognitive bias that allows one trait, either good (halo) or bad (horns), to overshadow other traits, behaviors, actions, or beliefs. The halo effect happens when we notice something particularly impressive about a candidate and we are blinded to less preferable features about the candidate. The horns effect happens when we focus on one negative trait of a candidate and ignore everything else.
  6. Contrast effect refers to evaluating the performance of one person in contrast to another because we experienced the individuals simultaneously or in close succession. Receiving an exceptionally strong application subconsciously sets a standard and all the applications from that point seem inferior. The problem with contrast effect is that it lacks objectivity. It skews expectations away from reality and can make a good candidate seem mediocre, or poor candidates seem great and we may not end up with the best person for the job. Instead, we end up with the best person out of the bunch seen so far.
  7. Attribution bias happens when we make assumptions about people’s actions and intentions based on previous interactions we’ve had with them. For example, because some people see women as less competent than men, they may undervalue women’s accomplishments and overvalue their mistakes.
  8. Name bias is very common. It is a preference for someone based on their name. Research shows that those with perceived white names receive 50% more callbacks than those with perceived African American names and 28% more than people with Asian last names.

Other types of bias include gender bias, ageism, height bias, and authority bias, among many others. Soon, I’ll be sharing ways I’ve found to combat unconscious bias in the recruiting process.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile