What is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious bias is preventing your company from being as diverse as you could be. Read about how to identify it and combat it below.

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What is Unconscious Bias?

Many companies today are thankfully striving to root out discrimination from their hiring process. This is in part due to our moral obligation to create fair hiring practices. However, diversity and inclusion in the workplace are also important to business health. In fact, a 2018 Boston Consulting Group survey found that companies with above-average diversity in their workforce saw a greater portion of revenue from innovation by 45%.

This boost in revenue, of course, should be no surprise. Gathering talented employees from diverse backgrounds empowers your company with diverse perspectives. It’s only a matter of achieving that diversity. Unfortunately, unconscious bias is one of the biggest hindrances to diversity.

But what is unconscious bias? In terms of hiring, unconscious bias is when a recruiter’s latent prejudices affect the hiring process. Unconscious bias in hiring leads recruiters to unintentionally prefer certain groups of people over others, clouding their judgment. Left unchecked, unconscious bias can lead to a homogenized workforce.

Unconscious bias comes in many forms but is often based solely on a candidate’s appearance or first impression. This bias can derive from anywhere from a candidate’s name, appearance, or even accent. Regardless of what form it comes in, failing to mitigate bias can seriously hinder any recruitment process.

An example of unconscious bias can come in the form of gender bias where candidates are judged on their gender rather than their merits. This bias is particularly common as gender stereotypes are embedded into our culture. Though a recruiter may not deliberately make hiring decisions based on gender, it can cause them to prefer one candidate over the other.

And that is only one example of unconscious bias. Let’s take a look at some others.

Affinity Bias

Unconscious bias is not always based on a negative prejudice. Rather, sometimes an unconscious bias can be in favor of a given candidate. This is certainly good for that specific candidate but is unfair to everyone else in the hiring process. This scenario makes it incredibly easy to miss the bias. A recruiter will rarely second-guess the positive feelings they have about a candidate, even more so than negative feelings and prejudices.

What is affinity bias in recruiting? In simple terms, it’s when a recruiter prefers job applicants with which they share something in common. This can be anything from race, religion, an alma mater, to even a friend they both know. Regardless of what they have in common, this bias can cause recruiters to favor certain candidates whether they’re qualified or not.

Confirmation Bias

There can be times in the recruitment process when recruiters will develop a certain initial perception of a candidate. From there on, they’ll seek out information based that supports that initial perception regardless of any other data. This includes asking unnecessary or irrelevant questions during the interview process to confirm and back up their initial feelings. This is what is known as confirmation bias.

So, let’s take a look at what confirmation bias is. In short, it’s when an individual seeks out information to confirm their own beliefs or impressions. For example, imagine a recruiter that is interviewing a candidate. During the initial meet and greet, the recruiter, for some reason, gets the impression that this given candidate has poor communication skills. So, the recruiter asks questions throughout the rest of the interview probing for when the candidate has failed as a communicator or hangs onto every verbal slip-up that confirms their theory. This would be a case of confirmation bias and provides an important argument for standardizing the interview process.  

Which is better, phone interviews or video interviews? See how they compare.

Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Unconscious bias in the hiring process can certainly lead to unconscious bias in the workplace. But how is that different? What is unconscious bias in the workplace?


How can we overcome bias in the workplace after it has already been rooted?

As with any problem, the key to dealing with unconscious bias is recognizing that it is a problem. From there, you can begin a plan of action to mitigate this bias from affecting your hiring practices any further. In the process, plan your actions carefully. It is easy to make a mistake that will worsen your company’s existing unconscious bias.


From here you can begin to monitor your behavior and that of your team. Take the time to question your first impression and reactions to the most recent interviews. With this information, determine what form of bias is affecting your business. Is it gender, race, or perhaps multiple biases that are keeping your workforce from being as diverse as it could be? Identifying the exact bias can help you root out the problem.

Once biases have been identified, set ground rules for you and your hiring team. The goal is to ensure everyone gets a fair and equal chance to show their worth as a potential candidate.

Combating Unconscious Bias

So, what else can you do to combat unconscious bias in the hiring process? We have discovered some easy steps and approaches to make it possible. But what about the tools? What can you use to make your recruitment strategy diverse and inclusive? Answering these questions can be daunting at first. Thankfully, the modern recruiter has a plethora of hiring tools at their disposal to make mitigating bias easy.

One such tool is the phone interview. When properly utilized, phone interviews eliminate the source of many biases in the hiring process — the visual aspect. By removing visual information entirely, a recruiter is less likely to make a decision driven by unconscious bases such as race, ethnicity, gender etc. What’s more, these interviews can help you standardize your recruitment process.

Asynchronous phone interviews, or on-demand phone interviews, allow you to give every candidate the exact same interview. As such, you mitigate the risks of confirmation biases where a recruiter may deviate from the standard interview questions. After all, a poor interview structure is one of the most common sources of unwanted bias in your hiring process. Rather, every candidate with asynchronous phone interviews gets an equal opportunity to shine.

Qualifi offers an on-demand phone interview platform that encourages inclusivity through on-demand audio interviews to help you meet your diversity goals. What’s more, Qualifi allows you to schedule and gather interviews overnight while preserving human reviews for your recruiters. As such, you gain all the benefits of keeping the human in human resources while mitigating biases from harming your recruitment efforts.

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