In a series of 3 blog posts, we delve deeper into the phenomenon of bias in selection processes. Bias, and thus discrimination against applicants, is often unintentional but as a negative effect. Selecting completely without bias is very difficult, but you can take a number of measures.
Everyone is biased. A harsh statement, but nothing could be more true. Our brain is constantly evaluating things around us and associating them with knowledge and experiences in order to make choices and to function as efficiently as possible. We unconsciously avoid a street where a dog scared us so much last week. When we eat nice fries in Antwerp, it seems like a good idea to us to have fries a year later in Ghent. This associating occurs both consciously and unconsciously and also has an impact on conscious and unconscious prejudices. It is a process that everyone is guilty of regardless of background, education or gender: we are programmed that way. The world around us is complex and there are so many sources of information that we are unable to let it all in. Our cognitive coping mechanisms help us to not be completely exhausted after a car ride or running errands in the supermarket. It would be too burdensome if we had to think deeply and consciously about all our decisions. Unfortunately, the cognitive mechanisms that help us survive in everyday life also have a negative impact; unconscious bias. Because we have to filter and cluster, we cannot avoid unconsciously putting some things in a box. This is very natural, but it can have major consequences; for example, if we have to make a decision about hiring new employees.
Bias in the selection process
(Unconcious) bias in the selection process is a major problem. Everyone is biased, thus so are a recruiter and a hiring manager. As soon as the information of a candidate, such as a CV, is read, the brain runs away and draws all kinds of premature conclusions, based only on a CV, a name or a photo. A clear case of stereotyping, and so there are many cognitive biases.
Unintentionally we can discriminate and exclude certain applicants without knowingly doing so
Preventing discrimination in the selection proces is receiving increasing attention (see Dutch article in ‘de Volkskrant’). Very good, but when are you really bias-free? And is this actually possible? The answer; you can try to avoid bias but selecting without bias is difficult as long as people have to make decisions.
The first step in the selection process is crucial
The biggest win on eliminating bias can be achieved at the beginning, at the start of the selection process. The legislative proposal of state secretary van Ark of Social Affairs has exactly that in mind. Employers must establish in writing in advance how to avoid a distinction in recruitment and selection based on background, age or gender.
By thinking about this in advance, you become more aware of the unconscious biases and you can act on them. Many hiring managers have, based on their experience or perception, an idea of what they consider important in a candidate. For example, an assumption is that a top athlete, such as a hockey player or rower, will perform better and give up less quickly. Or the recruiter mainly looks at work experience gained at certain renowned companies.
Therefore, try to remain as objective as possible and to start working from the tasks that the person has to do in the role and what it takes to be able to perform these tasks satisfactoy. Determine what you are actually looking for in a candidate, regardless of number of years of work experience or specific training. As a recruiter and hiring manager, try to get full agreement on what you expect from a candidate. Vague concepts such as “helicopter view” often have various definitions. Then you try as much as possible to make an initial estimate of the potential or match between candidate and position without having looked at the candidate’s background.
Once you have this clear, you can make the match between what you are looking for and what the candidate is capable of, regardless of background age or gender. Obviously, a lawyer must have studied law and a doctor medicine, but there are also professions where prior education is not so decisive. A pre-selection or screening assessment can give you valuable information about whether the candidate is potentially suitable. Based on the other information, you can then determine whether the candidate will continue in the selection process.
BrainsFirst’s gamified solutions for pre-selectie
Preventing bias in the early stages of the selection process is what BrainsFirst helps organisations with. Together with experts, we determine which skills and behavior are really important for the position for which they are recruiting for. With this input a brain profile is created, a model based on cognitive skills. These cognitive skills can very well predict potential in a bias-free way. Candidates are invited early in the selection process to play the NeurOlympics, a so-called brain-based assessment game. Each candidate’s data is individually corrected for bias. Each candidate is then carefully, fairly and unbiased matched with the pre-defined goal profile. In this way, we help organisations to take an important step in combating bias and to get the right person in the right place.
Want to know more?
Are you curious how you can reduce the bias in your selection process? Please contact Ivar Schot. He is happy to tell you more about it!