Combatting unconscious bias in tech recruitment

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Zinc Team
August 1, 2019
Updated on:

The representation of females in the tech industry still has a long way to go before women are no longer considered the minority. With only 26% of the tech workforce in the UK are women. It’s clear to see one of the fastest growing industries in the world is still being plagued by a lack of diversity. Contributing to that, is unconscious bias in tech recruitment. 

Unconscious bias refers to the automatic or unintentional preferences or prejudices we hold towards certain groups, often based on characteristics like gender, ethnicity, or age. These biases creep into the recruitment process, hindering efforts to build an equitable and inclusive workforce. 

Historically the tech industry has been predominantly male-dominated. During recruitment, unconscious bias can add to this imbalance by creating a subconscious preference of candidates who fit the stereotypical image of a "typical" tech worker. The fact that only 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are occupied by women demonstrates how this can leave a lasting impact on the industry as a whole

Percentage of women in leadership positions in tech

Gender diversity challenges for the tech industry

A key challenge the tech industry faces is showcasing female role models to inspire females to choose a career in tech. The 2023 Woman in Tech survey showed two of the top three reasons why women are put off the tech industry is due to the male domination and the lack of development and progression opportunities for female tech workers. 

Employers have a responsibility for inspiring change in the tech industry. To achieve this, employers should be working to even out the gender bias in the industry during recruitment and trying to inspire them through female role models who have achieved the things they also aspire to achieve. Alongside this, employers should be promoting opportunities for women to up skill and have fulfilling career development throughout the recruitment process and employment. 

With 90% of people believing that the tech sector would benefit from a gender equal workforce, working to achieve this will be vital to change the way women think about working in tech. 

Percentage of people who believe tech should be more gender diverse

Unconscious bias during employment background screening

Conducting background checks on job candidates is a common practice for employers, but it's important that these checks are done responsibly and without unconscious bias. When reviewing a candidate's background, recruiters should be aware of their own implicit biases based on race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics. For example, criminal record checks may disproportionately flag candidates from marginalised communities. Minor offences committed long ago may still unfairly impact someone's ability to get a job.

To avoid contributing to systemic inequities, background checks should focus only on directly relevant information, like verifying educational credentials or reviewing applicable employment histories. Anything unrelated to a candidate's qualifications should be disregarded. Recruiters should also contextualise any negative findings, considering circumstances and the passage of time. No one's past mistakes should follow them indefinitely.

Implementing thoughtful background check policies, training recruiters on implicit bias, and auditing outcomes can help organisations make fairer, more inclusive hiring decisions. Candidates should also be given a chance to explain or correct any incomplete or inaccurate background check findings. By being mindful of unconscious bias, companies can ensure their recruitment practices live up to ethical standards and provide equal opportunities.

Strategies to avoid unconscious bias in tech recruitment 

Addressing unconscious bias during recruitment is crucial for building a fair and inclusive workplace. Implement these 7 effective strategies throughout the recruitment process to avoid unconscious bias:

  1. Anonymous applications -  Remove personal information, such as names, gender, and photos, from resumes and applications. This way, the first stage of hiring decisions are based solely on skills, qualifications, and experience.

  1. Set selection criteria upfront - Agree what you’re looking for from the candidate right from the outset. That way you’re more likely to judge all candidates the same, and less likely to keep changing the criteria as you go along.

  1. Don’t schedule interviews under pressure - Studies show that unconscious bias occurs more when the recruiter is highly stressed or under pressure to make a decision. Be sure to give candidates equal interview time and set reasonable time to hire expectations for internal team members. 

  1.  Competency-based questions and structured interviews - Interviews should be based around the selection criteria that have been agreed upon upfront, with questions that delve into skills, experience and ask for specific examples of these. Use the same questions for each candidate so that you can make fair comparisons.  

  1. Establish diverse interview panels - Form interview panels that represent diverse perspectives within your organisation. Involving employees from different backgrounds and levels of seniority can lead to more inclusive evaluations and hiring decisions.

  1. Use a scoring system - Create a score system based on your selection criteria and interview questions to reduce the chance that you’ll make decisions based on your gut instinct - a surefire way to let unconscious bias get the better of you.

  1. Conduct regular training and discussions - Keep the conversation about unconscious bias alive within your organisation. Conduct regular training sessions, workshops, and discussions on diversity and inclusion to ensure that combating bias remains a priority for your HR team and hiring managers.

Final thoughts

Implementing strategies to combat unconscious bias will help you foster an inclusive organisational culture. Creating an inclusive and welcoming work environment where employees from diverse backgrounds feel valued and respected is so important. An inclusive culture attracts a broader range of candidates and enhances retention, promoting a more diverse workforce.

As HR professionals, we have the power to shape the future of tech and create a more inclusive industry. Addressing unconscious bias in tech recruitment will help foster diversity and ensure everyone gets an equal opportunity, growing the industry and setting it up for success. 

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