Hiring bias limits efforts to increase workforce diversity. Companies that do more than pay lip service to diversity identify the types of bias in their process. After that, they create a detailed plan to eliminate it. To carry out their plan, they dedicate the necessary resources, measure outcomes and modify as needed.

Working toward demographic parity is not just the right thing to do from a moral standpoint. It’s the best thing to do from a business standpoint. At the end of this article, we discuss the benefits of increasing workforce diversity.

First, we’ll discuss seven insidious types of hiring bias. After that, we will outline an 11-step roadmap to eliminate the bias and build a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

7 Types of Hiring Bias to Root Out

These are categorized as cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is a flaw in judgment. Think about a coin toss that comes up heads ten times in a row. While there’s always a 50% chance that the next flip will be tails–it seems unlikely.

hiring bias1. The Halo Effect

We all know that first impressions matter. This is related to the halo effect. Once we have a favorable opinion of someone, it takes a lot to change our mind. Another element of the halo effect is the idea that because a person excels in one area, he or she will also excel in others. For example, we might assume that because someone is an excellent public speaker, he will also make a good content writer. In reality, these skills don’t necessarily influence each other.

2. Expectation Bias

This is related to the Halo Effect discussed previously. A recruiter might read through dozens of resumes. One candidate looks particularly good ‘on paper.’ When that person comes in for an interview, the recruiter may be more likely to overlook obvious flaws. For example, the person doesn’t make eye contact or is inarticulate. If you expect someone to be something–whether that’s good or bad–he or she is likely to fulfill those expectations.

3. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out information that validates your current opinion. For example, people who tune into Sean Hannity are typically more conservative. People who watch Rachel Maddow are typically more liberal. As a hiring bias, it’s the tendency to focus only on the aspects of a person that coincide with the recruiter’s pre-established opinion.

4. Anchoring Bias

Anchoring is a hiring bias in which the hiring manager fixates on one piece of information. As a result, they give it more weight than it deserves. Say, for instance, you have a candidate who is the president of the local Mensa Society. Even if the candidate isn’t the best for the job, it may be tempting to overlook her flaws because ‘She’s in Mensa!’

5. Social Comparison Bias

Managers hiring for their team are especially vulnerable to this one. The social comparison bias is the tendency to dislike or feel competitive with others who may have similar skills. For example, suppose you’re known as the company’s expert on a certain software application. You may feel reluctant to hire someone whose skills exceed your own. For decades, research has shown that this is a relatively common phenomenon. Therefore, it’s an issue you’ll want hiring managers to consciously avoid.

6. Ingroup Bias

Ingroup bias is the tendency to favor people who are similar to oneself. Those who are part of the same ‘group.’ Like sexism or racism–it’s blatantly unfair. But there are less obvious examples of ingroup bias. Some hiring managers, for example, might look more favorably on fellow alumni. You may feel a sense of camaraderie with a candidate who participated in the same fraternity or sorority. There are several types of ingroups, so make sure your team watches out for them.gender parity

7. Shared Information Bias

While this type of bias may not directly affect your candidates, it can certainly draw out the hiring process. Shared information bias is the tendency for members of a group to discuss information that everybody is already aware of, rather than focusing on hidden information that is only available to some. For example, if one interviewer notices an irritating quality in a candidate, he or she should share this with the group–even if it doesn’t seem relevant. All members of the team should have the full scope of information.

Now that we have discussed types of unconscious bias, hopefully you will consciously avoid them. Many experts suggest that AI is the solution. An applicant tracking system (ATS) can be used in many ways to root bias out of your hiring process. For example, an ATS can hide aspects of a candidate’s profile that you don’t want to consider. Also, you can use an ATS to manage gender- and ethnically-neutral job descriptions. Plus, you can decrease the shared information bias when everyone keeps notes in a central location. Lastly, tracking all candidates and hires in a centralized location makes it easier to track your diversity metrics.

An 11-Step Roadmap for Increasing Diversity Through Recruitment

Once you’ve identified the types of hiring bias going on, it’s time to make a plan to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate them. Use these steps to create a plan designed for your company. Many factors will affect your plan. For example; your industry, the size of your hiring team, the number of yearly hires, and your current level of diversity.

1. Set Measurable Goals

Firstly, assess your workforce. Consider gender, ethnicity, and age. Also educational background, socioeconomic status and geographic location if you have remote workers. (If you don’t have remote workers, why not?)

In addition, be mindful of not discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Though this information would be difficult and inappropriate to address in an assessment. (Under no circumstances should you ask any employee about his/her/their sexual orientation or gender identity! It would be illegal and in extremely poor taste.)

Secondly, create a diversity mission statement. Let your employees know about your diversity hiring goals. If you use an HR portal, remind your employees of your diversity mission frequently.

Thirdly–and this is most important–make a specific goal to increase your target hires in each underrepresented group by X in X months.

Lastly, include your diversity mission statement in your employee handbook and training materials. Put the statement on every piece of recruiting communication. Use it on internal documents so it’s always top of mind for your employees.

Keep in mind that diversity doesn’t just mean varying nationalities. It’s also important to hire professionals from a range of industry backgrounds and diversified levels of experience while paying attention to gender balance. The beauty of diversity is there is no perfect formula. Every team will look unique. (Sheryl Lyons, “The Benefits of Creating a Diverse Workforce,” Forbes)

2. Incorporate Employee Resource Groups

Make diverse candidates feel more comfortable by using employee resource groups (ERGs) during interviews. (Hopefully, you have ERGs. If not, encourage your staff to create them and support them in the effort.)

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives. Other benefits include the development of future leaders, increased employee engagement, and expanded marketplace reach. (Catalyst)

workforce diversity

3. Review Resumes Blind

Studies show that resumes with white-sounding names receive more callbacks or interviews than those that seem non-white. Consequently, many candidates ‘whiten’ their names and backgrounds. But why should a candidate’s name affect whether he or she is a fit for an open role? You can use an ATS to remove names and hide demographic information. This will help your team avoid unconscious bias during the resume review process.

4. Diversify Your Hiring Team

Is your hiring team diverse? Applicants will notice. If minority candidates have several job openings to choose from, the makeup of the interview team could be a factor in their decision. Diversify your interviewing team. This will help them make better collective decisions.

5. Train Employees on Hiring Bias

You can’t increase workforce diversity if your employees don’t understand unconscious bias. Therefore, it’s important to conduct formal training. You can create your own internal training program, hire a consultant, or use online resources like Google’s unconscious bias training.

The Harvard Business School’s Implicit Project (requires registration) is an eye-opening exercise. It can help people recognize and measure their biases. At the start of training, consider having participants take a few surveys to learn what social stereotypes they may be harboring. Encourage them to challenge their assumptions.

6. Retool Your Job Descriptions and Job Requirements

Do you use gender-neutral terminology? Scrutinize your job descriptions and take out any gender-specific language. Instead of ‘he’ use ‘he or she’ or ‘s/he’. You can always use the job title in place of any pronoun.

Many words used frequently in job postings discourage women from applying.  Here is a free gender decoder tool. Just paste in your job description. Create job description templates after carefully crafting them to avoid bias. Manage them in an applicant tracking system.

Just as important as giving your job descriptions a makeover, consider your job requirements. If ‘corporate culture match’ is a hiring criterion, remove it. This is an easy place for unconscious bias to creep in. It will hinder your efforts to increase workforce diversity. Furthermore, if your company culture reflects a homogenous workforce, you don’t want to use it as a measuring stick anyway. Increasing workforce diversity will improve your company culture.

7. Use Structured Interviewing

In addition to retooling job descriptions, rewrite interview scripts to avoid bias. Train your interviewers to use them correctly along with EEOC guidelines. Manage your structured interviewing scripts in your ATS. Standardizing interview questions enables a consistent and fair experience for all candidates.

Lastly, remind employees to avoid asking questions that could lead to a candidate sharing his or her age, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or gender identity. This information doesn’t relate to a candidate’s ability to perform in the role and could bias hiring decisions. If the candidate volunteers the information, instruct your interviewers to steer the conversation elsewhere and discourage them from sharing the information with the rest of the panel.

8. Seek Diverse Referrals

In addition to revamping recruitment communications, use your employee referral program. Encourage employees to refer applicants from underrepresented groups. Our closest associates are likely from our same demographic group. When moving outward in our network, however, we find more diversity. Therefore, encourage your employees to look beyond their first- and second-degree connections.

Pinterest created a program designed to increase the diversity in their engineering teams. They asked their engineers to refer potential job applicants from target demographics. They discovered that if their employees made a conscious effort, they could find referrals from underrepresented groups. Pinterest’s diversity referral program was a success. They are taking additional steps to increase diversity in other departments. (Medium)

9. Improve Onboarding

You might wonder what onboarding has to do with workforce diversity. It comes after a candidate accepts the job, after all. The reason onboarding is key is because good onboarding reduces turnover. Hiring more employees from inadequately represented groups is the first step. Retaining them is the second step.

Consider the employees who have quit your company in the last five years. Identify whether minorities, women or older employees have shorter tenure. If they do, you’ve got problems with culture and management. Your company may not be welcoming to underrepresented groups. The topic of turnover leads to the next section.

10. Use Exit Interviews

Hopefully, you don’t have a lot of employees quitting. If you do, use exit interviews to learn why they are leaving. You may discover you have problems with your managers. Perhaps your company doesn’t support work/life balance. Maybe there are limited opportunities to progress along a career path. Are your advancement policies discriminatory? Find out what’s going on and fix it.

11. Revisit Your Benefits

Does your company recognize employees in different life stages? Do you support working mothers and fathers? Which holidays do you recognize? If your benefits are designed for a homogenous workforce, it will hamper your workforce diversity goals.

Offer benefits such as onsite daycare, childcare subsidies and flexible schedules, and let new hires know that you are willing to accommodate cultural and religious holidays and diversity-friendly (but office appropriate) apparel choices.
Wall Street Journal

The Business Advantages of Workforce Diversity

Let’s discuss the benefits of workforce diversity from a business standpoint. A diverse workforce has increased depth of experience, knowledge. and skills. It is more productive and innovative. It’s impossible to successfully introduce a product into a new market if you don’t understand the culture. Diverse teams can better serve diverse clients.

Through 2022, 75% of organizations with frontline decision-making teams reflecting a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets. And gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperformed gender-homogeneous, less inclusive teams by 50%, on average. (Gartner) 

The consulting group BCG found that organizations with above-average diversity on their management teams had higher innovation revenue. 19 percentage points higher, in fact, than companies with below-average leadership diversity. 45% of total revenue versus just 26%. Note that this study involved leadership teams. This underscores the importance of increasing diversity at the highest levels. If you focus only on entry-level positions, you won’t experience the same benefits.

In conclusion, let’s reiterate the steps to increase workforce diversity. First, understand the types of hiring bias. Second, identify which ones are inherent in your process. Third, create a detailed plan to eliminate the biases. Fourth, set a measurable goal for increasing diversity. Fifth, follow the plan and measure results along the way. Sixth, tweak the plan as needed until you reach your diversity goals.


Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, CloserIQ, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn
Liz Strikwerda