Why is it important to mitigate unconscious bias in recruiting and hiring? 

Despite our best efforts to create a fair and equitable hiring process, there’s still one thing that can get in the way of the most well-intentioned leaders: unconscious bias in recruiting and hiring. Unconscious biases can be tricky. Most of us are not aware we have them! In this article, we share our experience helping leaders identify and minimize unconscious bias from the hiring process. But first, let’s talk about why that’s so important. 

What is unconscious bias? 

Unconscious bias in recruiting and hiring comes in many forms. For the purpose of this article, we’ll define it as assumptions that are made about candidates that impact whether or not they’ll be hired. These assumptions can be favorable or detrimental to the candidate, but they stem from our own ideas about what type of person should fill the role.

For example, we may favor a candidate who attended our alma mater. We may assume a person who rides the bus to work will often be late. We may worry a candidate over 60 won’t stay long at the organization. 

Unchecked, these hidden biases can sabotage our efforts to be inclusive or to recruit the most talented candidates. On the other hand, there are countless benefits to preventing these biases from entering the hiring process. Inclusive hiring improves your recruiting efforts, boosts retention, and builds a positive culture of mutual respect at your workplace.

In the next section, we’ll share some examples of what these biases can look like. 

What are some examples of unconscious bias in recruiting and hiring? 

While biases against women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color are widely acknowledged as unacceptable in the workplace, there are other unconscious biases that can hinder the hiring process. Here are a few: 

  • Age: Age discrimination is common with older workers. Employers are often concerned about the length of tenure of people who are over 60 years old. Additionally, they may assume that older workers might demand high salaries and may not be team players due to their extensive knowledge and experience. Age bias also extends to millennials and Gen Z, who are viewed as flight risks with little desire to commit long-term to a company. 
  • Company History: Biases about candidates based on their company history can also come into play. Those with a background at large corporations may be automatically deemed unfit for small businesses. Employers might assume that individuals used to working in big companies rely heavily on the support of a large team and may struggle in a smaller, more independent setting.
  • Freelance Experience or Nontraditional Employment: Similarly, hiring managers might hesitate to hire someone who has primarily worked as a freelancer, assuming they would struggle to adapt to a structured company environment. These preconceived notions hinder a deeper understanding of candidates’ potential, motivations, and capabilities.
  • Location: Another factor that often comes up is the candidate’s location. A hiring manager might be reluctant to hire someone who lives more than 45 minutes away from the office, assuming the employee would constantly be late or unwilling to commute. 

How can unconscious bias take shape in the hiring process?

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say a financial firm creates rigid parameters that exclude potential candidates from their search. While they think these parameters will be helpful in narrowing their search, they actually get in the way of meeting qualified candidates. Many of the requirements have nothing to do with an individual’s ability to perform the job well. 

The firm seeks candidates with a particular personality type, living within a 30-minute radius of the office, and available to work on-site three times a week. However, their relatively low pay hinders their ability to attract suitable candidates. Despite having a positive company culture, an appealing office environment, and a team-oriented atmosphere, their assumptions and strict limitations hinder them from finding the right fit for their firm.

What can this firm do differently? It starts with becoming aware of how their biases are getting in the way of their search. More on that in the next section.

Two men at a job interview.

What are some ways to mitigate bias from the hiring process? 

Now that we’ve identified how bias enters the hiring process, let’s take a proactive approach to minimizing it. Here are some ways to mitigate bias from hiring and recruiting

Become aware of your own unconscious bias

The easiest way for a bias to take root in your leadership is to let it go unrecognized. Dig into your own history and hiring tendencies to identify what might be a bias for you, whether it’s age, lifestyle, appearance, background, or something else. 

Look for affinity bias

Common in organizations, this is the tendency to connect to people with similar interests and backgrounds. However, these similarities carry no weight in a person’s potential job performance. And, this bias could decrease the diversity of ideas within your organization. Evaluating your existing team. Do your team members represent a wide range of backgrounds, ages, lifestyles, and experiences? Or, do many of them have similar experiences to your own? Healthy disagreement among team members can actually be a positive sign that you encourage diverse opinions as a leader.

Cast a wider net in your search

You might need to adjust your search parameters to include candidates with strong transferable skills rather than industry experience. You may also look for associations or organizations that attract minority candidates or expand university recruiting to schools with diverse student populations. The bottom line is to find ways to source talent outside of your own network. 

Assess job descriptions 

Even the most minute details in your job description can impact the diversity of your candidate pool. Are all of the requirements you’re asking for necessary to perform the job well? Or is something like a 4-year traditional education getting in the way of including experienced talent with the right skillset? 

Conduct blind resume reviews 

Omit names, academic institutions, and even company names from resumes so you can focus on skills and experience. This might give you an entirely different perspective on the candidate. (It’s also a great way to become aware of your unconscious biases.) 

Offer interview training 

Make sure your entire team has been trained on understanding unconscious bias as well. Education is THE best way to decrease biases in the recruiting process. Create a structured, objective interview process that includes diverse panels. 

Four people at a job interview.

Is this process working for other companies? 

Yes! Companies that are intentional about creating an unbiased hiring process have been able to build diverse, dynamic teams. Many of our own clients have been able to find top talent once they’ve understood how some of their preconceived ideas were standing in the way of meeting qualified candidates. 

Below are examples of national companies who are putting those tips into action–and the positive results of those efforts.

The Phluid Project:

The Phluid Project is a small gender-free clothing store in New York City. In 2019, the company conducted an audit of its hiring practices and found that it was not attracting a diverse pool of candidates. The company responded by partnering with local organizations that focus on diversity and inclusion, and implementing blind resume screening to reduce unconscious biases. As a result, the company’s workforce became more diverse and it saw an increase in sales.

Proximity Space:

Proximity Space is a mid-market coworking company based in Colorado. In 2020, the company conducted an audit of its hiring practices and found that it was not attracting a diverse pool of candidates. The company responded by implementing unconscious bias training for all employees and using more inclusive language in job postings. As a result, the company’s workforce became more diverse and it saw an increase in member satisfaction and retention.

Mind Gym:

Mind Gym is a mid-market employee training and development company based in the UK. In 2018, the company conducted an audit of its leadership ranks and found that it lacked diversity. The company responded by implementing a “blind audition” process for leadership roles, which removed identifying information from candidates’ resumes and required them to demonstrate their skills through a series of tests. As a result, the company’s leadership ranks became more diverse and it saw an increase in employee engagement and retention.


In 2016, Unilever conducted a study of its hiring practices and found that unconscious biases were leading to a lack of diversity in its leadership ranks. The company responded by implementing a new “blind recruitment” process that removed identifying information from resumes and cover letters. As a result, the company saw a 50% increase in the number of women hired into management roles and a 29% increase in the number of employees from diverse backgrounds.

Creating an unbiased recruiting process

Mitigating unconscious bias in recruiting and hiring is not only important, but also doable. By recognizing our biases, implementing inclusive hiring practices, and fostering diversity, businesses can build stronger, more innovative teams. The success stories of companies like Mind Gym and Unilever that have embraced these strategies are a testament to the positive impact of creating a fair and equitable hiring process. 

Embracing diversity and inclusion isn’t just a moral imperative. Regardless of your industry, reducing bias in the hiring process offers a competitive advantage in today’s global workplace. However, recruiting top talent from different backgrounds is often time-consuming and challenging. At Risch Results, we specialize in attracting, recruiting, and hiring diverse talent to help our clients to achieve their business objectives. Contact us to learn more.

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