Yes, In-Group Bias in Hiring is Human. But It’s Still Wrong.

Now, picture your group of friends and honestly answer the following questions:

  • Are they the same age?
  • Are they primarily the same gender?
  • Are they of the same ethnicity?
  • Do they have similar interests and hobbies as you do?
  • Perhaps they come from the same background as you?

In most cases your friend group closely resembles you. Your friends are likely the same age, same gender, and perhaps even the same ethnicity as you. They probably share similar interests and perhaps even went to the same school or university as you did.

Even if you pride yourself on being inclusive and celebrating diversity, you will still tend to unconsciously or sometimes even consciously surround yourself with people similar to you. 

And yes, it’s entirely normal to get along with people who are similar to you, like your university classmates. 

However, favouring people who are similar to you becomes a real problem when it comes to hiring.

Great minds DON’T think alike

“Great minds think alike” is probably a proverb you’ve heard plenty of times. 

Let’s be honest, you’ve probably used this saying jokingly in many situations where you and someone else thought of the same thing or came to the same conclusion. Which would then automatically be associated with the fact that both of you are intelligent and great (because great minds think alike, right?).

A popular expression that sounds good on the surface but falls apart under scrutiny.

It used to be a proverb so prevalent within my vocabulary, till I actually started to think about what it actually entails and suddenly began to question myself. Did you know that the full proverb goes like this “Great minds think alike, small minds rarely differ”?. 

Having a team full of people who think alike might seem awesome at first. After all – what’s better than a whole team of employees basically being your own cheerleaders and supporting any idea that you throw their way. It’s like a bunch of your personal minions! How great!?!

For long as this illusion lasts. Until it turns out it ain’t that awesome after all.

Having only like-minded people in your team will reduce friction, yet it will also reduce the quality of the work. Without diversity in your team, you’ll miss crucial perspectives to iterate on your project and improve it. If you’re all like-minded, you’ll only get to see the flaws when the actual results come in, too late.

  • Do you interact more with people that have similar backgrounds as you rather than those who don’t?
  • Do you tend to avoid conversations about social issues that you do not relate to personally?
  • Do you have any privileges that others do not have because they don’t belong to a certain group?
  • Do you encourage groupthink and conformity rather than embracing differences?

The answer to these million dollar questions is simple: once you feel like you fit in a certain group, you tend to (un) consciously favour everything within this group over whatever is outside this group. 

This also happens in a hiring setting – we find it easier to hire people who we feel inherently comfortable with, and we tend to feel the most comfortable with people who remind us of our in-group, of ourselves. Simply because it feels natural. 

What’s going wrong here: In-Group & Similarity Bias 

In-group bias refers to the phenomenon that we (un)consciously have a more positive appraisal of our in-group members compared to the out-group members (Brewer 1979). In-group bias can happen if I prefer someone just because they are somehow grouped with me regardless of whether or not they share any characteristics with you.

In-group bias refers to the phenomenon that we (un)consciously have a more positive appraisal of our in-group members compared to the out-group members (Brewer 1979). In-group bias can happen if I prefer someone just because they are somehow grouped with me regardless of whether or not they share any characteristics with you.

These biases are often accompanied by excessively-favorable resources allocation to in-group members, unnecessary hostility toward those who are out-group members, and affective or behavioral effect that overly positively distinguishes in-groups from the out-groups (Fischer & Derham, 2016).

On top of that, In-group bias goes hand in hand with similarity bias. 

Similarity bias is a kind of cognitive bias that explains our tendency to prefer people that look and think like us. Because quite naturally, we want to surround ourselves with people we feel are similar to us.

Similarity bias is a kind of cognitive bias that explains our tendency to prefer people that look and think like us. Because quite naturally, we want to surround ourselves with people we feel are similar to us. 

In-group and Similarity biases aren’t all bad. They’re normal and human. This sense of belonging & bonding is necessary for our well-being (after all – we naturally trust or appreciate fellow in-group members that are similar to us, we feel trusted and appreciated in return).

When it comes to the hiring process, it often happens that we tend to favor candidates who are more similar to us, for example:

  • They went to the same school as us
  • They like the same sports team
  • In the interview process, you find out you share the same hobbies, e.g. gaming
  • They worked at the same company as you did before
  • They come from the same country
  • They look like us

While it might seem harmless in principle to associate ourselves with familiar people, which is DISASTROUS in a hiring setting because you will end up making the wrong choices unknowingly.

P.S. In the second episode of our podcast, together with Dr. Marcia Goddard we talk about In-Group bias not only applied to a business setting, but also to a societal setting!

In-Group & Similarity Bias will have you hiring an army of clones

The consequences of these biases can be expressed in the evaluation of in-group members vs. ‘outside people’, sharing similar opinions within the group and creating biases towards other groups. Leaving many consequences: A shrinking and less diverse talent pool - diverse companies are proven to attract 73.2% more top talent than non-diverse companies.
It can be a massive threat to inclusion within an organization and inclusive companies are 1.7 x more likely to be innovative than those who are not. 
Lead to a homogenous culture & lack of diversity within teams. Did you know that 2 out of 3 job candidates actively seek companies that have diverse workforces? 
Ultimately, resulting in an inefficient & biased hiring process that will lead to an increasing mishire rate.

The consequences of these biases can be expressed in the evaluation of in-group members vs. ‘outside people’, sharing similar opinions within the group and creating biases towards other groups.

Leaving many negative consequences:

  • A shrinking and less diverse talent pool – diverse companies are proven to attract 73.2% more top talent than non-diverse companies.
  • It can be a massive threat to inclusion within an organization and inclusive companies are 1.7 x more likely to be innovative than those who are not. 
  • Lead to a homogenous culture & lack of diversity within teams. Did you know that 2 out of 3 job candidates actively seek companies that have diverse workforces? 
  • Ultimately, resulting in an inefficient & biased hiring process that will lead to an increasing mishire rate.

Cognitive Biases prevent us from Hiring Objectively

Each one of us likes to believe that we are not biased. But the reality is different. 

All of us have cognitive biases — they’re a result of being human. But cognitive biases are not inherently good or bad; it all comes down to what we do with them. 

Things get complicated when unconscious cognitive biases impact our hiring decisions.

Fast, intuitive judgment with limited bits of information, such as by looking at a candidate’s CV can trigger biases that severely influence your conscious decisions in the hiring process. And not in a good way.

When we rebuild the proverb I mentioned at the very beginning of the blog, we are provided with a new narrative:

What if it is difference, not sameness, that makes us thrive? 

How Equalture can help Outsmart In-Group & Similarity Bias with Gamification

We have built a library of scientifically-validated gamified assessments, to help companies get to know their candidates’ skills, behavior, and personality in an objective way, rather than

having to guess by looking at someone’s resume. Candidates are asked to complete the games at the start of the hiring process (which takes around 15 minutes). 

This way ensuring a bias-free first impression based on science, so you can make objective decisions about whom to advance within your application process. 


Curious to play one of our games? 

A visual of one of the games that is non-cheatable and measures a specific skill/personality trait.

Don’t take our word for it!

“Equalture allows us to get a very complete photo of our candidates’ cognitive skills, without biases nor preconceptions. We also love their insights about practical applications of individuals belonging to each bucket and the kind of environments they might perform better.”

Mariona Serra Palomares, People Business Partner at Heura Foods

You can’t prevent being biased. But you can prevent acting on it. Simple as that. 

So what are you waiting for? Don’t let biases get in the way of you hiring great talent. 😉

Cheers, Anete

References

Brewer, M. B. (1979). In-group bias in the minimal intergroup situation: A cognitive-motivational analysis. Psychological bulletin, 86, 307. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.86.2.307

Fischer, R., & Derham, C. (2016). Is in-group bias culture-dependent? A meta-analysis across 18 societies. SpringerPlus, 5, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40064-015-1663-6

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