How Recruitment Agencies Can Reduce Unconscious Bias in the Recruitment Process

To improve the recruitment process and eliminate unconscious bias, recruitment agencies can take the following 7 steps.

Karin Björkman Tendijck

With over 20 years of experience working for Undutchables in The Netherlands and now running my own recruitment company in Sweden, I’ve had the opportunity to witness and understand the intricacies of recruitment agencies firsthand. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work in diverse, inclusive, and international teams, collaborating with multilingual employees from various backgrounds and countries. This emphasis on diversity has been a cornerstone of my recruiting approach as well – always striving to attract a diverse team.

In this blog, I want to delve into the critical topic of unconscious biases in recruitment agencies. We’ll explore why it’s essential for agencies to be aware of these biases and offer 7 practical strategies to combat them. 

7 ways recruitment agencies can reduce unconscious bias

To improve the recruitment process and eliminate unconscious bias, recruitment agencies can take certain measures, including the following advice.

Educate recruiters about unconscious bias

Train the recruiters on cultural awareness and the fact that unconscious bias exists, to have the recruiters work more objectively. Making everyone aware of the prejudices (bias), should not stand in the way of attracting the right talents.

Develop a good recruiting plan together with the client

Are the needs defined? Is the job description up to date? How many interviews in the process and who should be involved in the process?

Debias the job description

When adjusting job descriptions, it is important not to simply copy them verbatim, as each recruitment process requires a tailored job description. It is crucial to differentiate between job specifications and job descriptions and ensure that the latter is inclusive by removing any (unconscious) biases and stereotypical information.

For instance, the job description should be gender-neutral and avoid words that may attract specific groups, such as masculine-coded terms like ‘active,’ ‘adventurous,’ and ‘challenging,’ or feminine-coded terms like ‘honest,’ ‘interpersonal,’ and ‘trust.’

Create a mixed interview panel for each job interview

Make sure that the client has an interview panel which is a good mix of employees, not only HR for example. Include others in the process, someone who does not wear the same glasses as you.

Show the clients the benefits of a diverse and more inclusive workforce

HR cannot do this alone; you need help from across the organization. Create support.

Consider implementing anonymised CV screening (otherwise known as blind hiring)

This involves removing identifying information such as name, gender, age, or ethnicity from candidate applications. This approach can help eliminate biases based on these factors and ensure that candidates are evaluated solely on their qualifications and skills. 

Please note that blind recruitment cannot eliminate unconscious bias entirely and in fact, in some cases can unintentionally discriminate. More information is to be found here: What is blind recruitment.

Use tech to help reduce the impact of unconscious biases

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can help identify and reduce bias in the selection process. These systems can use algorithms to screen applications and resumes based on objective criteria, rather than subjective factors such as race or gender.

You can also choose to use assessment tools. Using scientifically validated and reliable tests in the recruitment process can help eliminate biases and provide objective information about a candidate’s abilities. 

Why recruitment agencies should become aware of unconscious biases

Firstly, let’s clarify what are unconscious biases. Unconscious bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that we hold about certain groups of people, often without even realizing it. This can lead to making assumptions or judgments about candidates based on their background, culture, or ethnicity, rather than their qualifications and actual skills.

Unconscious bias definition showing a person holding weights that represent inequality

Especially, when recruiting for roles that require language and cultural knowledge, unconscious bias can lead to overlooking highly qualified candidates who may not fit your preconceived notions of what someone from that culture or language should look or act like.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of our unconscious biases and strive to mitigate them to ensure fair and inclusive recruitment practices. Mediating multilingual candidates does not guarantee diversity and inclusivity in recruitment, so learning about and addressing unconscious bias is essential for promoting a more equitable hiring process.

Reflecting on the workplace, it is crucial to train recruiters to draw out the best in candidates regardless of their biases. Recruiters should also inquire with clients about the essential qualifications for the role. Recruitment decisions should not be based on factors such as nationality, origin, gender, or sexual preference but focus on skills and personality instead.

Moreover, clients are increasingly committed to improving Diversity and Inclusion policies, recognizing the benefits of diversity in expanding the talent pool. However, it can be challenging to know where to start. 

Measuring success begins with monitoring and evaluating

Monitoring and evaluating the recruitment process is essential to ensure that it remains effective and relevant. Every recruitment process and requisition is different, and it’s important to evaluate each one individually to identify areas for improvement. Keep track of what works for your organisation when evaluating whether the initiatives put in place to reduce unconscious bias are paying off. 

For example, you could begin by:

  1. Tracking the diversity of the initial candidate pool
  2. Assessing the interview-to-hire ratio across different demographic groups, and 
  3. Monitoring employee retention rates for diverse hires.

 

These KPIs will provide valuable insights into your progress in creating a fair and inclusive recruitment process.

Building an equitable recruitment journey starts with you

Everyone has a story to tell, and it is important to have awareness of the existence of unconscious bias and to constantly work on ‘neutralizing’ and removing these, so a more diverse and inclusive workforce can be created – for the benefit of everyone!

Picture of  Karin Björkman Tendijck

Karin Björkman Tendijck

Karin Björkman Tendijck, Founder, Beyondo. Karin is a consultative partner and talent advisor, with more than 20 years of experience in international recruitment in The Netherlands and Sweden. She spent 17 years with Undutchables Recruitment Agency as a recruitment and executive consultant before setting up the Swedish arm of Undutchables. Last summer, Karin set up her own agency, Beyondo, connecting candidates to international job opportunities. Her company is focussing on the recruitment of international experienced talents. She has made it her profession to help others, find a suitable job, when being new in a country. Also, assisting Swedish speaking ‘home comers’ when they relocate back to Sweden.
Her vision is that people that has experienced having lived in a different country, learning a new culture and its language, is very enriching for a person. Also, it makes you resilient, strong, and brave! Also, when working with recruitment of internationals, it is even more important to work closely with companies, advising them on an open, transparent and fair recruitment process.

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