Tackling unconscious bias

Make fair recruitment decisions

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Making recruitment a fairer place

To make sure the recruitment process is fair and transparent, it's important to be aware that no one is completely free from prejudice and bias. Keeping this in mind at every stage can help a recruitment panel to come to the fairest decision.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is caused by our brain making quick judgments about people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.

Our personal biases and prejudices and our stereotyping of people provides us with an unconscious shorthand way of making a split-second decision about people and situations: are we safe; do we connect; will we get on?

Spotlight on what not to do

Evidence suggests that recruitment panels still favour candidates similar to themselves. Most recruitment teams would no longer ask the question that was acceptable 10 years ago: “How do you think you will fit in with the team?” However, although we know better than to ask that, it seems that we still make judgements based on unconscious bias. There are steps you can take to reduce the negative impact of unconscious bias in your decision making.

Here's a short animation from The Royal Society that explains the concept of unconscious bias

10 questions to ask around recruitment

1. The job advert

Did you include statements about welcoming applicants from a wide range of backgrounds in the job advertisement?

2. Where to advertise

Have you advertised the job in as many different places as possible?

3. Job description

Is everything mentioned in the job description or person specification essential to doing the job?

4. Interview panel

Have all members of the interview panel had training/briefing on the relevant parts of equality legislation? Do they know how important it is to avoid discriminatory language and making assumptions during the interview?

5. Unconscious bias

Is the panel aware of the concept of unconscious bias and how it can affect how we assess candidates during recruitment?

6. Interview support

Have you checked if any of the candidates need additional support for the interview? This might include things like an induction loop, or large print on anything they have to read.

7. Accessibility

Is the interview room accessible for all? For example, think about how someone who uses a wheelchair or has a visual impairment would get to and use the room.

8. Scoring

Were the interviews all scored carefully and the decision to award the job made based on these results?

9. Fair treatment

If you had to, could you show that all candidates were treated fairly and were given equal chances to present their skills and qualifications?

10. Feedback

Were all candidates given the opportunity to receive useful feedback about their interview?

Want to know more?

Facebook has provided a range of videos about unconscious bias online that enable their staff – and others – to recognise their unconscious biases and the negative impacts they can have in the workplace.

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