How you can reduce bias in hiring today

January 17, 2023 Updated: October 2, 2023 11 min read

Whether or not we realize it, everyone has bias. Sometimes it’s harmless, like when we favor mint ice cream over chocolate. Sometimes it’s helpful, like when we drive the easiest route to work in the morning without a thought. Sometimes bias is even fun—like when we support certain sports teams just because we live close by.

In general, biases help people make decisions. There are so many choices to make each day, we’d be overwhelmed if we didn’t have some pre-programmed bias helping us along.

Here’s where we run into trouble, though: when we allow bias to fuel prejudice and bring about harm to people. This is called conscious bias. It’s when we actively choose to include or avoid certain groups based on faulty information.

Unconscious bias is when we do that without even realizing it.

Neither are good. And neither are good for your business.

Thankfully, there’s a way to do better. We’ve gathered solutions, suggestions, and ways to start combating bias today—all through your hiring process and into the future.

Bias at work

What does it look like when bias influences the choices we make at work?

Here’s a few examples: bias is when a man gets offered new projects over a woman based on the belief that men are harder workers. Or when the resume of a BIPOC person gets passed over because the hiring team thinks they won’t be a “culture fit.” Or when someone who graduated from state school isn’t respected by their Ivy League colleagues.

In all these cases people came to conclusions based on faulty assumptions, then acted on them.

Favoring one group of people while excluding another in the workplace is wrong.

Not only that, it negatively impacts organizations. When bias gets in the way, there’s less diverse talent, less innovation, less financial growth, and lower morale. People who face bias perform poorly. There’s increased conflict, and increased difficulty with both recruiting and retention.
Bias is like a sickness—it might start off small, with just an off comment or two, but it has the potential to grow and infect entire departments, businesses, and even industries.

So what can we do about it?

We start with how we hire.

Fixing the problem

Reducing bias in the hiring process is a great place to start making improvements. There’s a lot that goes into hiring—from sharing the job posting, to screening applicants, to conducting interviews—and there’s ways to do better each step of the way.

We’ve got concrete steps you and your hiring team can take to make your workplaces more inclusive, more successful, and better for the future.

Reduce bias in hiring: The problem-solving process

We’ve broken down our problem-solving process into three phases: a look into your organization’s past, present, and future. Addressing each (equally important) phase offers an opportunity for growth.

Phase one: The past

Before you can solve a problem you have to see the problem. Take some time to honestly reflect on the practices of the past.

Assess current processes. First things first: acknowledge any existing bias in the workplace. Without coming to terms with your blind spots, there’s no way to make things better.

Evaluate bias

Be honest when considering how often new people are hired based on gut feeling or intuition. This isn’t the way to find the most qualified candidates—data-driven decisions have objectively better results and support a more fair selection process.

Project Implicit is a helpful self-evaluation tool that employees can use to see what kind of biases might be impacting their decision-making. Encourage your employees, especially your hiring managers and HR professionals, to examine their biases with this tool.

Review hiring patterns

Take a look at hiring patterns of the past. What are the demographics of people applying for and working for your organization? Is there room to improve the makeup of your business to make it more diverse? Gather data and look at your interview process as a whole.

Assess referral programs

It’s a good idea, too, to review your employee referral program. These programs can be helpful, but they can also lead to a flood of employees from the same educational, socioeconomic, or cultural backgrounds. You’ll build an imbalanced talent pool, which isn’t helpful for companies that value diversity.

Set goals. Once you have a clear picture of what your weak spots are, it’s time to set goals.

Establish targets

Make it a priority to attract and hire underrepresented people. Use accurate data to track hiring gaps and measure successes.

Consider shifting hiring priorities too. Move away from hiring strictly on skillsets or years of experience. Employers now find that candidates who are hired for valuable behavioral traits are more successful than people hired just for work-specific skills. Skills can be taught, while behavior that aligns with company values—like grit, coachability, or empathy—is a little less moldable.

Weigh likability

Consider how important likability is when choosing new employees. Deciding whether someone is charming or pleasant is too subjective to drive hiring processes. While it’s important that employees form a cohesive team, make sure you aren’t weighing how well-liked a person is over more important factors.

As you enter into the next phases of reducing hiring bias, continue to revisit your goals and make changes as needed.

Phase two: The present

Now that you’ve identified areas for improvement, it’s time to get down to the actual work of making things better in real time.

Screen applicants fairly. Before you meet them, you screen them. Ensure you’re giving each candidate a fair chance to make it to the next round interviews.

Improve job descriptions

One of the first steps in the recruitment process is writing job descriptions. To attract as many qualified candidates as possible, make sure you’re writing a description that attracts a wide range of people.

Avoid gendered language, including pronouns or words that appeal more to one gender over another. For example, masculine-coded words include “competitive,” “determined,” or “driven.” Feminine-coded words include “honest,” “cooperative,” and “supportive.” Someone reading a job description with gendered language might not feel welcome to apply.

In the same way, take care to avoid language that isn’t age-inclusive. Using a phrase like “digital native” might signal that only young people are equipped for a job, while words like “mature” might only appeal to older applicants. Avoiding background checks until after a job-offer has been extended will also help avoid revealing a candidate’s age.

Using software to evaluate language or a job description template can help hiring teams develop descriptions that are intentionally neutral and universally appealing.

Complete blind resume reviews

Another way to reduce bias in candidate screening is to use tools that allow for blind resume reviews. Redacting identifying information—like a candidate’s name or age—will remove details that could spark bias within the hiring team and interfere with their ability to fairly assess applicants.

Blind resume reviews are especially important to companies who aim to hire more diverse candidates. One Harvard study showed that people of color who made their resumes more “white” received 10-15% more callbacks than applicants who let their resumes reflect their ethnicity or race.

Don’t let bias get in the way—you’ll miss out on great job candidates. Take advantage of the software available to find a wide range of qualified people to interview.

With a screening process that actively fights implicit bias, your hiring team is ready to move on to working on the next part of the hiring cycle.

Evaluate candidates objectively. Don’t stop with inclusive candidate sourcing. Keep working, and build a more diverse company with bias-free interviews.

Standardize interviews

Standardizing interviews is one of the best ways to reduce bias in hiring. Following a set of pre-selected questions will help combat any unconscious biases that could influence the interviewer. Structured interview questions also make it easier to assess candidates with accuracy and avoid distracting small talk. And they make comparing and contrasting each candidate profile with other potential hires more straightforward.

Use intelligent interview software for video interviews, or an interview template for in-person interviews, to guide each assessment. This ensures questions are legal, appropriate, and relevant. Take advantage of candidate scorecards to rate each applicant as you go.

When hiring teams have the help of an interview guide and score system, they’re more likely to choose candidates who are well-prepared for the job, not just people they “get a good feeling about.”


Provide skills testing

One of the best practices hiring teams can implement to evaluate candidates is skills testing. Using a work sample test or letting candidates move through a trial project is a great way to see applicants in action. It gives each applicant an equal opportunity to showcase their skills.

Hiring teams will get a better picture of each candidate and learn about them in ways a resume can’t reveal—like what leadership skills, problem-solving capabilities, or creative thinking each person has. Providing this kind of opportunity to candidates is a better predictor of future success than their resumes.

With a structured, holistic, inclusive interview process, your company is sure to find more diverse, and more qualified, candidates than they have in the past.

Phase three: The future

Foster a culture of diversity and inclusion that carries your company into the future. Continue to assess, set goals, and deliver interviews that are fair.

Provide education. Once your new hires have joined the team, make sure their experience continues to be inclusive. Educate your existing employees on bias and the importance of diversity.

Deliver awareness training

Share meaningful training opportunities with employees on the types of biases and prejudices that influence people in and out of the workplace. When employees know what to watch out for, they’ll be able to identify and correct any behavior they see within themselves or others.

Continue the discussion

For long-term success, hold ongoing conversations on the importance of diversity. Expose employees and members of the hiring team to diverse perspectives and encourage them to learn from other professionals. Use shortcomings as opportunities for growth.

Build a culture. It’ll be hard to maintain an inclusive interview process without a strong internal foundation. Take steps to build a culture that values diversity and equity.

Grow diverse teams

One of the most important ways your company can demonstrate a commitment to diversity and bias-free hiring is to continue to build teams that include people of various backgrounds. Include employees of different races, genders, ages, and religions. Set the example from the top down.

Adjust communications

One small, but impactful, step towards inclusion is to avoid biased communication in the workplace. Even subtle word choices in casual conversation will undermine efforts to improve the overall culture.

Note, too, where you can eliminate biased language in things like slide deck presentations, blog posts, marketing materials, or even emails.

Value employee skills

Pay attention to what projects or tasks you are assigning to team members. For instance, giving a major account to someone because you like them more, or relying on a woman to plan team-building activities because you believe women are “more organized” are both biased behaviors worth investigating. Instead, delegate and assign roles based on skill.As you strive towards a more inclusive hiring process, the rest of your company culture should mirror those values too.

Increase collaboration. Increase buy-in from your employees. Build a community focused on increasing diversity and inclusion.

Brainstorm together

Gather your employees and think of ways to grow collectively. Evaluate the structure of your hiring process from the ground up, and hear what your employees learned from their own hiring experience.

Debrief any situations that might have caused harm, and think of ways to avoid them in the future. Work together to creatively problem-solve and infuse your company values into each step of the hiring process and the day-to-day.

Create an interview panel

Build a diverse panel of employees to objectively evaluate your hiring process. Allow them to audit and improve the process on an ongoing basis.

Include this team when making hiring decisions. Sharing highlight clips or candidate files with panel members will help your organization make even smarter, bias-free decisions.

With the help of your existing employees, your company will be more likely to find success as you set out to achieve your hiring goals.

Unbiased hiring, unprecedented success

Bias is harmful both in and out of work. It’s especially damaging to companies who want to build diverse, inclusive, and effective teams.

For companies who are building, or strengthening, a foundation of diversity, making adjustments to the hiring process is a great place to start. Break your approach down into manageable phases, and you’ll be able to make improvements to every step of your interview process.

With structured interviews, job description templates, and other growth-oriented interview solutions, Clovers can help get you where you want to be. Talk to a team member today.

Jackie White headshot

Jackie brings over a decade of HR technology experience to Clovers. She’s passionate about helping companies build talented and diverse (dream) teams and delivering an incredible hiring experience to everyone involved.

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