Eliminating Unconscious Bias in Recruitment

Posted on October 15, 2021

By: Stuart Gannon

As part of our focus on Diversity and Inclusion at MacDonald Search Group, I recently watched a TED Talk on Unconscious Bias by Gail Tolstoi-Miller. She told the story of a client who rejected a candidate because of the shoes they were wearing. The candidate’s shoes had no relation to her ability to do the job. This was a case of Unconscious Bias not being kept in check.

What is Unconscious Bias?

We process a large amount of information every moment of every day. To cope we accumulate mental shortcuts, both hardwired and developed, that allow us to process this high volume of information. If not recognized and kept in check, these can lead us to form judgements. Think of first impressions, our brains are processing everything from micro facial expressions, what we hear, see, the firmness of a handshake. Our unconscious shortcuts or “bias” can lead us to make decisions and judgements that may not tell the whole story. Leading us to form judgements of a candidate before reviewing all the facts.

As recruiters, we must keep our unconscious bias in check. In the example of the candidate’s shoes, Gail suggests this can be as simple as asking the question “so what?”.

Unconscious Bias often comes up when looking at a candidate’s resume. We need to remember that a person’s ability to write a resume is not the only assessment of their ability to do the job.

At MSG, we always assess candidates on their knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) which can only be done by speaking to the candidates directly. Having worked in the industries we hire for and following a client intake call we know what KSAs to assess. This allows us to build a candidate’s profile which we then can share with a candidate review following our submission. This candidate review is a critical step in avoiding unconscious resume bias.

How we assess “Cultural Fit.”

Another unconscious bias we try and avoid is “cultural add”. Often clients ask us to find a good “cultural fit” for their organization. Cultural fit refers to the core values and collective behaviours of an organization, not someone who shares similar values and interests as the hiring manager. Our unconscious bias often draws us to people that share the same social interests and activities, but this is not the best way to build a high-functioning team for the organization.

Why? Think of Dragon boating. If everyone in the boat were left-handed, you’d go in circles. If you had a mix of left- and right-handed paddlers, you have a better chance of paddling in a straight line. What is important is finding a group of people that are driven to win, have an inherent sense of rhythm, and are physically fit. The same logic applies to your company. We discuss and research your corporate culture so you can steer your boat forward rather than in circles.

How is MacDonald Search Group actively working to avoid Unconscious Bias?

Our recruitment team is always developing and recently took a seminar with Leda HR which focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion related to the recruitment process. From this seminar, we determined actions we can take to eliminate our own conscious biases when connecting candidates to employers:

  • Cast a wider net to find the best candidates
  • Learn to recognize our personal biases (conscious and unconscious)
  • Constantly improving our client intake calls and candidate reviews
  • Utilizing tools that assess knowledge, skills, and abilities
  • Continually educating ourselves and taking affirmative action on how to be inclusive and minimize Unconscious Bias

Being aware of Unconscious Bias and equality isn’t something new at MSG. We’ve been working on it for a while. Since January 2020, our placements are reflective of the demographics of the Canadian population:

  • Male 48% (population 50%) Female 52% (population 50%)
  • Caucasian 70.5% (population 77.7%)
  • Arabic / South Asian 14.1% (population 7.9%)
  • Asian 9.1% (population 8.6%)
  • Other 6.3% (population 5.8%)

What this means for MSG clients

We’re seeking to become a leader in diversity and inclusion among North American recruitment agencies. Our company goal is to recognize and remove Unconscious Bias from our hiring processes and maintain an equitable working environment for ourselves and our clients.

We encourage you to look at how you can remove Unconscious Bias in your hiring processes.

Contact an MSG consultant today to learn more and allow us to find the right candidate for your organization.