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Tackling Unconscious Bias in the Recruitment Industry

Everyone has individual biases, which are determined by factors such as social environment, upbringing and culture. However, when it comes to the recruitment selection process, these prejudices play a huge part and can at times lead to prospective candidates suffering and organisations missing out on key talent.

While those involved in the hiring process might be aware of a few conscious biases they have, it's those they are not aware of - the unconscious biases - that pose the highest risk. This is something that needs to be addressed by all involved in recruitment, from HR professionals and recruiters, right through to line managers. When hiring, the end goal is simply to get the best talent on board to help the business grow. However, if unconscious bias is a factor, it can lead to a lack of diversity, and potentially a lack of top talent, in your workforce.

The need to address the issue of fairness in recruitment was recognised by the Government when it launched its 'Business Compact' last December. However, one year on, it is clear that more still needs to be done when it comes to eradicating bias from employment decisions. A survey earlier this year, Social class discrimination and unconscious bias by Manchester law firm Pannone, found that 79% of HR professionals still report unconscious bias as a widespread issue.

Financial recruitment company, McGregor Boyall, feels strongly that this issue needs to be rectified. It recently hosted an interactive workshop on 'Unconscious Bias in the Recruitment Process' in order to educate recruiters. Angela Peacock, managing director of leadership development company, People Development Team, led the event.

Angela gave an example of our unconscious biases in action. When you see a street performer, what do you think of them? Would you ever look at them and think they are a world-class musician?

Joshua Bell, a world-renowned classical musician, took to a Metro station in L'Enfant Plaza, Washington, in rush hour to play some of the finest classic pieces written, on one of the world's most expensive violins.

Disguised as a street performer, he was acknowledged by only a tiny handful of people, with the majority walking straight past the performance of a lifetime. Bell made a total of $32.17 in the 43-minute performance. Three days before, he filled the house at Boston's stately Symphony Hall, where seats sold for $100 each.

The subconscious perceptions of a street performer led to over a thousand people walking past a unique performance by a huge classical musician. When you consider that the unconscious bias of individuals could be causing you to turn away the Joshua Bells of your industry, the importance of addressing this issue cannot be doubted.

In order to prevent this loss of talent from your organisation, it is important to recognise that everyone needs to be involved in addressing the issue throughout the recruitment stage. Research shows that unconscious bias takes place at all levels, from creating the job description right up to the interview.

While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with this, it is possible to drive change by raising awareness of what unconscious biases are and how they are impacting on our decisions. That's not to say that a direct challenge to staff is the answer. Such biases should not be made out as weaknesses, it is a completely natural reaction which every individual will have, but which the majority of us will be unaware of.

When you consider the sheer amount of information we process on a daily basis, it is no wonder our brains turn to subconscious categorisation to make quick decisions. However, it is clear this needs to be addressed and by working together within our organisation to identify any biases, it is possible to move closer to a fairer recruitment process.

Laurie Boyall (pictured) is managing director at leading recruitment consultancy, McGregor Boyall