What the hiring manager said! Five steps to challenge bias in recruitment

Five Tips for Creating Greater Inclusion in the Recruitment Process…

Some comments from hiring managers witnessed by recruiters:

  • “This candidate is to be highly recommended – she is the daughter of <insert name of influential person>”
  • “I’m not interested in diverse candidates – just get me the most qualified person for the role”
  • “Find me another of <the person who is leaving the role>”

And, did you hear the one about the senior hiring manager who:

  • Only recruited people from their old company in a particular geography and created a new ‘in-group’, thus forcing long standing members of their team into the unwanted and undeserved position of ‘second-class citizens’?
  • Hired a friend of someone they knew and liked who had no obvious qualifications for the role?

Whilst I sigh as I recount these, and perhaps you do too, nevertheless they are real examples raised by recruiters, about hiring managers in some of our client organizations. The truth is, decisions and behaviours of all those involved in the recruitment process can be riddled with bias. This in turn leads to questionable decisions and candidate appointments that just don’t work out.

Recruitment is big business. In 2015, latest data from Bersin by Deloitte estimated that U.S. businesses spent an average of $4,000 per hire on recruiting in 2014, an increase of 7% over the previous year.

HR Review estimates that the overall financial impact of staff turnover across the UK in just 5 sectors amounts to £4.13bn per year.

Most organizations acknowledge that procuring the very best talent is imperative for driving competitive edge and future proofing the business. Some companies have also recognised that creating inclusion in the recruitment process will help them make better decisions and increase diversity. Building inclusion in the process means taking active steps to reduce bias, both conscious and subconscious.

How can we challenge bias in recruitment?

This is the critical question. It’s usually the recruitment function that is responsible for mitigating the effects of bias in the process. They will be the ones analysing the process steps (see Fig 1) for non-inclusive practice and identifying process changes that help minimise bias. This is undoubtedly a valuable exercise and can often throw up quick wins for more robust decision-making.


Diversity & Inclusion - Unconscious Bias in Recruitment

Fig 1: The Recruitment process

How can I more effectively challenge hiring managers’ bias?

The most common challenge facing recruiters is how to support hiring managers to make decisions that are more open-minded and objective. The assumptions, behaviours and decisions that happen as a result of bias can do real damage. You’ve only got to revisit the examples at the top of the blog to get a sense of this in action.

Let’s not underestimate how difficult it can be. First off, it’s not always easy to challenge what a hiring manager wants to do when they have a fixed idea what they are looking for. Secondly, how do you push back without damaging the relationship or making it personal? When you’ve tried a few approaches and nothing has really worked, it can be disheartening.

At PDT we run masterclasses to ensure recruiters are equipped to challenge flaky decisions and help drive behavioural change. Here’s a sneak peek into five of the underpinning principles of these programmes.

  1. We’re all busy, and when it comes to making key recruitment decisions, ‘gut feel’ is often a strong driver. In order to encourage a hiring manager to pause and reconsider their assumption, behaviour or decision, there has to be a good reason.

Conversations with hiring managers need to highlight the business benefits of taking a more inclusive approach.  Recruiters have more credibility when they are able to make direct links between greater inclusion in the recruitment process and those business gains.

  1. Each Hiring Manager conversation is part of a bigger drive for behavioural change towards inclusion. Having this wider context in mind can help recruiters identify when to have the conversation (and when not). There is no easy answer or magic model for driving behavioural change. It requires commitment to the vision, positive role modelling and a healthy dose of courage to take action.
  2. Linked to number 2 above, recruiters need an in-depth understanding of bias (conscious and subconscious!) and, crucially, how to spot it in the process – so they know where to intervene. Lots of examples and some practical approaches for spotting the signs of bias are key.
  3. There are ways to have effective conversations with others and ways not to. The approach depends on a number of different variables – not least of all your relationship with the person you need to talk to. PDT provides a framework for having such conversations that helps remove the ‘personal’ aspect and enables the ‘protagonist’ to reflect on their own decision / behaviour and, if appropriate, how to back down gracefully.
  4. Finally, a dose of humility can go a long way. We all have bias, and approaching conversations with that in mind makes a big difference.

To truly gain the edge in your recruitment process; to improve the quality of your decisions; and to make those rather unfortunate hiring manager scenarios a thing of the past, it is well worth equipping your recruiters to drive greater inclusion in the process.

Download our “Unconscious Bias in Recruitment” Tool Kit to guide you through an inclusive recruitment process. Find out how, if unmanaged, unconscious bias can stop you from hiring the right talent, hindering the development of your organisation and potentially costing you thousands in time and money! Research shows that the total cost of losing an employee can be up to 2x the annual salary, while on average the cost of replacing a member of your organisation is £30,000.

PDT’s “Unconscious Bias in Recruitment” Tool Kit covers the following:

  • What is unconscious bias?
  • How does bias affect our actions?
  • How does bias affect the recruitment process?
  • The new, structured approach to hiring
  • Fascinating statistics on the cost of talent in recruitment

Click here to download!