Overcoming Unconscious Bias in Recruitment and Hiring


@Bias at work can create a ton of challenges if you want your team to value diversity and inclusion. Let’s narrow our focus and create an in-depth look at how unconscious bias impacts work because this form of bias can present some unique challenges for employers trying to create an inclusive environment.

While there are many overt forms of bias that you can easily spot and work to remove from your company, unconscious bias is much harder to remedy. Many people cannot spot their own forms of unconscious bias without training, which makes dealing with this form of bias harder. Most people like to think of themselves as good people who value diversity, so getting people to address their unconscious biases on their own is highly unlikely. As a company, it is in your best interest to learn about unconscious bias, how it impacts your company, and what you can do to help your employees identify these biases at work.

What Is Unconscious Bias?

While bias in general presents challenges, often, we aren’t even aware of all the biases we have and how they impact our decisions. Many of us have unconscious biases that permeate our thoughts and leak out into our decisions without us realizing it.

According to Vanderbilt, “Many researchers suggest that unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences and background.” Our brain is a complex organ that we are still trying to understand, we don’t always know why our brain does what it does, but this can impact what we think about the world.

How Unconscious Bias Affects Diversity In Hiring and Recruiting

According to Forbes, “Unconscious bias can be a huge setback in creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.  It has been shown that such biases can have an impact on recruitment, mentoring, and promotions.”

We know that diversity is crucial for business success in 2019 and beyond. Still, unconscious bias can sneak up and obliterate your chance of creating the diverse and inclusive environment your company deserves. Unconscious bias is often worse than other types of bias because it’s harder to spot and fix. Dealing with unconscious bias is truly an internal process, your employees need to be willing to work on themselves, or they need to be open to bias training.

Types Of Training To Help Overcome Bias

While there are a variety of ways to reduce bias at work, let’s take a look at some specific training ideas that can help you with unconscious bias.

When it comes to training, most companies rely on a professionally administered presentation aimed at helping people understand how the mind works, why unconscious bias exists, how to spot the behavior, and how to change the behavior before it affects decisions.

Since unconscious bias can affect many layers of your business, the best way to teach your team about unconscious bias is by using small groups. When you use small groups, you can use specific examples of how unconscious bias might show up in that person’s line of work. For example, recruiters and salespeople might deal with unconscious bias, but it shows up in different ways for each employee. By creating specific training for different roles, you can make an abstract concept more concrete.

Google’s Unconscious Bias Training

Google has one of the most prolific unconscious bias training programs of any company. Over 35,000 Goole employees have undergone their unconscious bias training, Unconscious Bias @ Work. Google has opened up about their training and even provided resources so companies could use their training tools with their employees.

After working on unconscious bias within their team, Google uses four methods to reduce unconscious bias at work:

  1. Create a structure for success: Once you understand what success is and create a structure to get there, you can be more objective.
  2. Measure results: You can’t improve what you can’t measure, so collecting data is imperative to reducing unconscious bias.
  3. Evaluate subtle messages: Google employees are tasked to think deeper about the subtle messages hey might be giving to potential employees or visitors that might throw them off or make them feel alienated.
  4. Hold everyone accountable: Google states that, “combatting unconscious bias isn’t about blame. It’s about accountability.” By holding everyone responsible for reducing bias, everyone has a role in making work safer and more inclusive.

Long-Term Training

When Starbucks shut down its stores for one day after an incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks, it was met with mostly positive reactions. One of the criticisms of this training was its shortsightedness. “It is impossible to change long-term behaviors, stereotypes, and perceptions via one-day training. How can you possibly expect to eradicate learned stereotypes and bias when individuals spent their entire lives thinking in a certain way?”

Unconscious bias is buried deep in the psyche of an individual. It doesn’t mean it can’t be altered, but it does mean that companies should be invested in long-term solutions if you want to do more than put a bandaid on the situation.

Other Ways To Overcome Unconscious Bias

Next, let’s discuss some other ways to overcome unconscious bias in hiring.

Create Objective Recruitment Measures

Have you clearly defined what makes a good candidate? Without clear hiring definitions, you give your team free rein to hire whoever they feel will be the best fit. Since we have unconscious biases, those candidates may not be as diverse or inclusive as you would like. It’s essential to sit down and create objective recruitment measures for each job at your company.

Remove “Gut-feeling” Hiring

Have you ever seen someone hire someone based on a gut feeling? “I knew they’d fit right in with my team, so I offered them a job on the spot.” While this is great for that person who now has a job, it can create a situation where a person was hired based on feelings instead of credentials or company values.

Your gut feeling can also lead to people avoiding hiring qualified candidates because they got a bad feeling about a person based on characteristics your candidates can’t control. For example, if you associate women with smiling, but you run across a woman who isn’t smiling, your gut feeling might tell you not to hire her, even though she is well-qualified.

Use Teamwork to Remove Bias

Another way to remove bias in recruitment is by using teamwork. Instead of leaving hiring decisions up to one person, create a diverse hiring committee. Your hiring committee can review any applications and take turns interviewing potential candidates. When making hiring decisions, bring your committee together to review all candidates and make a hiring decision with your objective recruitment measures in mind. Having more than one set of eyes on your recruitment process means you’ll have less bias during the recruitment process.

Approach Diversity in a Purposeful Way

Adding diversity as something we value at work is helpful, but only if it is done purposefully. If you want to become more diverse, you have to do more than declare that you value diversity. You should also create committees to help ensure that you are recruiting in diverse locations, write policies that help prevent discrimination at work, train your employees to spot unconscious and overt bias, and more. Everything you do to create a diverse workplace makes you diverse, not the fact that you say you are. As a company, you must sit down and build the policies and procedures that your company can use to turn words into action.


Overcoming unconscious bias is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. It’s crucial to prioritize long-term solutions over quick bandaids or lip service. Instead of hoping one 60-minute training will save your company, invest in a solution that will slowly heal your company and focus on building a team-centric recruitment process.