How to Reduce Bias in Your Recruitment Strategy

February 18th, 2020

A recent TrustRadius study of HR professionals found that the most common method for addressing diversity and inclusion in the workplace is reducing bias in recruitment. Despite visible displays of D&I training from big-name companies, the not-so-secret secret is that recruiting diverse groups is how diverse workplaces emerge.

There’s a big difference between advocating for diverse workplaces, setting ambitious goals, and actually achieving those visions. Execution makes all the difference. The following steps will help you execute your goals for a more diverse workforce. 

6 Crucial Steps to Reduce Bias in Your Recruitment Processes

The strategies listed below come directly from insights shared by HR pros, vendors, and researchers in the TrustRadius community. We surveyed over 75 HR professionals for first-hand visibility into current recruitment practices. We also met with Jack Wei, Director of Product Marketing at SmartRecruiters, to discuss how recruiting software can enable your diversity recruitment goals. Read their advice below:

#1 Recognize where you’re struggling

Diversity, or lack thereof, manifests itself in different ways. Start by identifying the most underrepresented groups in your existing workforce by considering race, ethnicity gender, or religion, for example.

Underrepresentation can often be less visible in large or decentralized companies where you can’t see everyone in one place. This lack of visibility necessitates a more detailed assessment process that relies mainly on the reporting capabilities of your HR management, talent management, and workforce planning platforms. These reports will be useful for evaluating your company’s diversity both in a vacuum and relative to industry benchmarks. They can also help you catch bias in recruiting based on less “popular,” yet still impactful, factors. 

For instance, Jack Wei explained how one enterprise-size client used HR software to conduct similar internal assessments.  The client discovered that they had a bias toward candidates from particular universities. Once they identified this issue, the client was able to target their recruiting efforts to address that specific bias.

Survey respondents shared similar methods. A user from one midsize business claimed: “We use the EEOC compliance in our onboarding as well as running quarterly reports to ensure that we have diversity on every level.” However, these experiences are a small percentage of responses to the survey, indicating there’s a substantial gap between where diversity reporting should be and where it is.

#2 Build out diverse candidate pools ahead of time

Hiring diverse candidates is much easier if you already have viable candidate pools ready to go when a job opens up. Curating diverse communities allows you to easily source diverse candidates for the specific roles in your organization that need them. 

The main tool necessary for this is Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) software, which is commonly found in leading Applicant Tracking System (ATS). A CRM tool allows you to track candidates over the long term, including passive candidates. Most tools can also segment candidates into various pools based on the criteria you establish. For the enterprise-scale client mentioned above, SmartRecruiters’s CRM capabilities helped them build university pools to ensure they were diversifying which schools they hired from, as well as who they hired. 

Jack Wei lays out exactly why CRM capabilities play such a pivotal role for this client and others:

“ A CRM tool allows you to build minority communities to begin with. Building out your pipeline of diverse candidates up front in the process before a job req even opens already puts you ahead in terms of ensuring that a process of diversity is already embedded as part of your strategy.” 

When looking for an ATS that will support your diversity recruiting efforts, don’t be afraid to get in the weeds with vendors about their candidate filtering and CRM capabilities. This time investment will make sure that your software is an aid, and not a hindrance, when building out diverse candidate pools.  

#3 Explore if AI can mitigate subjective biases

Recognizing internal bias is far from an intuitive process. AI and machine learning can help identify gaps in your existing org charts and recruiting strategies that you and your team might miss. As this technology continues to evolve, you should explore whether, and how, AI can play a role in helping you evaluate your existing workforce and create more diverse candidate pools.

You should also tread with caution when utilizing AI. There have been myriad cautionary tales against putting blind faith in this technology. In some cases, misused AI and algorithms can perpetuate existing biases. The biggest factors affecting whether algorithms will reduce or reinforce biases are who’s writing the algorithm and what data they’re learning on. Bias in either location could infect automated processes and decision-making. Despite the risk, externalizing some processes to an AI tool can provide a clearer picture of where and how you should focus your efforts.

#4 Depersonalize application materials

There is a mountain of evidence indicating that biases can impact candidates’ resumes before they ever get an interview. Depersonalizing candidates’ applications plays a huge role in mitigate bias that emerges based on candidates’ implied identities on paper. 

In case this isn’t already a standard part of your process, always scrub personal identifying information—including names, addresses, and ages—and only reveal candidates’ qualifications for the job. This will help get more diverse and qualified candidates past the first stage of the application process.

Depersonalization is another process that some ATS products can automate. If you want depersonalization to be a standard part of your hiring, you’ll save time and effort by investing in an ATS that automatically depersonalizes apps. Depersonalization capabilities are far from a default feature in ATS products, but some vendors like SmartRecruiters, Greenhouse, and Entelo are building out these features to better support depersonalization.

#5 Decentralize and standardize your hiring process

As much as possible, avoid making one person the sole decision-maker throughout the hiring process. Wei emphasized that the more you decentralize the interview and hiring process, the less any one person’s biases can impact a candidate’s chances at your company.

For example, he advises utilizing a committee instead of a single employee during the interview process. Each committee member could evaluate the candidate holistically, or be assigned one specific aspect of the candidate to assess. 

Decentralization would still be susceptible to biases for or against a particular group if all the additional people involved still share the same biases. In these cases, standardization is a must-have in your application process— either through skills assessments or some other objective measure. 

This standardization process also entails reviewing what processes or habits you currently use that are biasing the candidate pool. For instance, some employers may give preference to candidates that perform certain post-interview activities, like writing a thank-you card or email. However, these preferences can exclude applicants who are qualified for the position, but weren’t raised with the same social norms or practices that the employer was. Focusing on objective, job-related criteria can help recruiters transition away from practices like this.

Wei also advocates for using tools like interview scorecards to rank candidates in interviews. These tools focus interviewers on the most relevant aspects of candidates. Extra features like masking other interviewers’ responses (“cards down” scoring) also lessen the risk of interviewers biasing each other. 

Many businesses already utilize some combination of these tactics, proving that implementing these steps simultaneously is achievable across business sizes. One SMB HR survey respondent demonstrated how they implement depersonalization and decentralization:

“We have 2-3 people that discuss options and reasons why or why not to promote or hire someone.  Most of the time, I have never met the person, so all I can see is their resume or work history with us.”

This professional’s experience was similar to other respondents, but still constituted a small minority of respondents’ methods. This indicates that there’s still plenty of room for improvement in the decentralization and standardization areas. 

The right ATS tool should enhance, not hinder, your Diversity and Inclusion

Once you align your recruiting objectives around reducing bias and improving workplace diversity, the ATS you use should play a key role in achieving your goals. 

ATS products are beginning to provide more comprehensive support for the features that will help bring diversity goals within reach. However, there’s significant variation in the market. Vendors that provide inclusion-oriented features tend to heavily promote their depersonalization and diverse sourcing support. But the presence of other features that actually support that focus, and how well those features work in action, are not necessarily as clear.  

To figure out which ATS will best support your diversity recruiting goals, consider the following criteria. CRM functionality is essential and fortunately common among major ATS vendors. Other important, but less common, features for diverse recruiting include:

  • Interview scorecards
  • Application depersonalization
  • Customizable candidate filtering
  • Job posting to niche job board/communities
  • Mobile accessibility

To see how these features shape up in real life, check out reviewer feedback from real users of these products in similar use cases.You can also work with vendors to see how well they plan to deliver on your specific goals. As Wei argues, it comes down to “what the recruiting team wants to get out of it, and then the technology should be able to support it.”