Uncovering Hidden Biases in Recruiting

Monica Montesa

Every stage of the recruiting process has the potential to introduce bias into your hiring practices. So how can organizations find and fix these hidden biases? 
 

Tom Lakin, Director of Innovation at Resource Solutions, has some answers. He joined Talent Experience Live to explore how to take inclusion efforts from lip service to action through data-driven goals and initiatives.
 

Get his insight in our recap below, and don’t miss the full episode for all the inspiring details.
 


Transforming DE&I from good intentions to good practice
 

Resource Solutions is a global recruiting firm that consults with companies that want to elevate their approach to diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I).
 

“There’s been a proper seismic shift in overall attitude,” Lakin said, prompting companies and individuals alike to question their commitment to DE&I. “Are we doing enough? The answer was no.” 
 


Be aware of hidden biases
 

A major barrier to DE&I efforts? Hidden bias. Every stage of the recruitment process has the potential to introduce hidden biases that are largely misunderstood by most TA and HR professionals. 
 

Lakin shared these examples:
 

  • The common multi-stage interview process puts female candidates, who typically have less free time, at a disadvantage compared to males.
     
  • Asking for current salary (which is not legal in many states but is standard practice globally) feeds the gender pay gap, especially among Black female candidates. 
     
  • Employment information on platforms that aren’t Android-compatible can introduce bias against Black candidates, who are more likely to use Android devices. 
     

“We can fix these problems… it’s about bringing people on the journey,” Lakin said.
 


Resource: Using AI to Overcome Unconscious Bias and Hire for Diversity


 


How can organizations identify bias and work to eliminate it?
 

It's not enough to just identify bias – organizations need to design and implement strategies to eliminate it. Lakin recommends a two-part approach: 

 

 

1. Audit the entire recruitment process.

First, conduct an end-to-end audit of the entire recruitment process – from referral to onboarding. “Hold a mirror up to what the current process is. Don’t make any changes until you know what you need to fix,” he advised.
 

Begin with the moment a job seeker searches for employment opportunities with your company online. Examine the content and scrutinize the application process. 
 

Look at the images used. Will candidates see faces that represent the demographics of your community? New York, for example, is only about 50% white, Lakin noted. But hiring companies there over-represent white males in their recruitment marketing. 
 


It’s important to apply validated research to the audit. Lakin recommends working with a partner if those skills aren’t available on your in-house team.
 

During the audit, consider the eight dimensions of diversity:
 

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • LGBQT+ communities
  • Age
  • Faith
  • Socioeconomics
  • Veterans
     

2. Create a data-supported list of changes.

Resource Solutions typically generates around 70 process recommendations to support better DE&I. Recommendations range from general branding and technology changes to more specific data-driven adjustments. 
 

The most powerful approach is to look at internal data and representation, and then compare those numbers to external data. 
 

Here’s an example: An organization examines the gender breakdown in its legal department and finds 40% of employees are female. 
 

Is that good representation? Wouldn’t logic dictate it should be at 50%? Not necessarily, and that’s where the external data comes in. If the market supply for these job roles is 33% female, then the legal department is adequately representing women.  
 


EBOOK: The Definitive Guide to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



Combine technology with strong thought leadership 
 

Used correctly, technology is a valuable piece of the DE&I approach. Lakin identified a few specific tools to help gather the data you need to identify hidden biases:  
 

  • Google Lighthouse is an accessibility tool that flags barriers on your site that could exclude disabled individuals.
     
  • Textio and other language analyzer tools assess gender bias and readability of job ads, flagging wording that could introduce bias.
     
  • LinkedIn features a tool that measures the response rate to job postings from female versus male candidates. 
     
  • HR software platforms include sophisticated tools to help cultivate inclusive work communities and promote employee resource groups.


Always be mindful that any technology you use is just an enabler of inclusion. It takes human empathy and intellect to set campaign direction and messaging, and consider the potential emotional impact of exclusion. 
 

”You need brilliant tech and brilliant thought leaders who really know about it,” Lakin said. “When they combine, that’s when the magic starts.”
 


How companies are putting DE&I into action
 

What does a strong approach to DE&I look like in the real world? Here are some examples from organizations that are excelling at creating an inclusive culture:
 

Upskill employees: Lakin is a big fan of improving the workforce by leveraging upskilling as a path to stronger diversity. This tactic promotes social mobility, succession planning, future-proofing, bridging skill gaps, and so much more. He recommends using tech platforms that enable upskilling to streamline the process and offer these opportunities at scale. 
 

Empower recruiters: Position recruiters to educate hiring managers on job requirements that could introduce bias, such as specific academic credentials. By educating hiring managers, you're actively working towards combating bias before it gets introduced. 
 

Make small process changes: Minor process tweaks can significantly boost DE&I, Lakin said. A global publishing house he worked with decided to ban grad and early career referrals upon discovering they were blocking DE&I efforts. This shift was easy to make and offered impactful results. 
 


Evaluate performance and gather employee feedback
 

Not every attempt to improve DE&I will work. To avoid going too far down a path that isn’t getting the results you need, it’s critical to test initiatives.  
 

In Lakin’s experience, even the most well-intended efforts can fail to have the desired effect. A few years ago, his team ran a controlled study of anonymous sourcing – identifiers like name, gender, and age were hidden. Contrary to expected results, they found that this approach actually put all candidates at a disadvantage.
 

He’s also seen campaigns designed to target a specific dimension of diversity receive negative feedback from other audience segments who feel excluded.
 

Passion, data, and the right people are key to DE&I
 

People tend to have a lot of passion when it comes to creating a more inclusive, equitable workplace – and that’s a good thing, Lakin said. But he emphasized the importance of keeping goals data-focused.
 

Involving the right people is key. Organizations need diverse hiring specialists working closely with inclusion practitioners to create a better work environment for all.
 

Separate inclusion goals from diverse hiring goals because they’re slightly different problems. “We need to make sure we’re re-engineering and auditing for what we’re trying to achieve. Look at diverse hiring channels, understand what you’re analyzing, and have a consistent methodology.”
 

 

Ready to bring DE&I to the forefront at your organization?
Download The Definitive Guide to Diversity & Inclusion

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