If only we lived in an ideal world, where all hiring decisions were based solely on qualifications and experience alone and nothing else came into play. People are prone to bias and in hiring situations unconscious bias often subtly influences decisions.
A Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, Madan Pillutla, studies fairness and trust in interpersonal relationships. During his studies he has identified 3 of what he believes are the most common unconscious biases which affect the hiring process.
1. We Use Stereotypes to Make Assumptions about Peoples Competencies
Pillutla highlighted an example from the USA to demonstrate his point. In America many businesses assume Indians are great at maths. This can sometimes lead to hiring managers selecting an Indian candidate because they ‘think’ they will exceed expectations in the position, despite another candidate being better equipped, or more experienced.
2. We Tend to Try to Surround Ourselves with Similar People
The similarity-attraction hypothesis makes the case that we prefer people who are like us. They can be from the same state, have the same interests, ambitions, whatever. We are attracted to like-minded people quite simply.
“People with a decent level of self-esteem are satisfied with their personalities. So when they see their qualities reflected in someone else, they tend to like that person, too. [But the problem is] if I keep hiring people like myself, very soon I’ll have an organisation of people who think similarly, who act similarly”, explains Pillutla.
3. We Don’t Like Perceived Threats to Our Position
In competitive culture work environments, managers who already feel pressured or insecure in their role may try and unconsciously avoid bringing in any fresh blood who they think displays qualities which may lead to the person threatening their position in the business.
“Even if people are well-meaning and well-intentioned, it’s very difficult to act against your own self-interest by hiring someone who could outperform you”, says Pillutla.
The Professor has a possible suggestion for one way of minimising unconscious bias, “it’s not entirely outside of the realm of possibility that for a lot of jobs we don’t even need to interview people.”
He suggests employers could instead bring in their best job candidates and have them work for a day in the firm to find out who performs best and is most suitable and capable of handling the position. It’s an objective strategy with tangible results and would in theory make it more difficult to allow unconscious bias into the decision making process.