How Hidden Hiring Bias Creates Workplace Discrimination

hiring bias

In all workplaces, there is a bias against hiring certain groups of people. While this mostly occurs subconsciously without the reviewers realizing they are doing it, it hurts the candidates, employees, and even the company.

While hiring discrimination can stifle the recruiting process, promotions, and employee retention, reports have shown that diversity can actually make a workplace more effective and have a better performance. And a diversity of gender and ethnicity in management positions can even increase profitability.

There have been many attempts to address this issue, from blind resumes to even AI, each with varying degrees of success. But hiring bias still exists to this day.

This year, the career website Zety performed a study on the gender bias present when hiring managers look over resumes. They surveyed 910 managers after presenting them with resumes identical in every way except for the name.

They found that the assumed gender of each candidate played a role in the managers’ likelihood of calling them back. Managers preferred the opposite sex and were less likely to call an applicant with a gender-neutral name, claiming it was due to a lack of experience, even though all applicants had the same resume.

Generally, in the workplace, men are considered more skilled, are more likely to be hired, and receive higher pay. Studies have demonstrated a negative bias against women who have children, who were perceived as self-promoting, or who looked or smelled feminine.

And while they found a bias against women in positions predominantly dominated by men, men who were less qualified for female-dominated jobs were still more likely to be hired. In addition, when men expressed anger it enhanced their evaluation, but when women did so it lowered it.

Even when companies provided antibias training or had strong employment equity directives, men were still favored over women and were recommended for higher salaries – even when qualifications were identical.

But gender isn’t the only factor that could affect your chances of being hired. Race can also play a major role, with black and Latino applicants regularly being discriminated against. A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that for black candidates, the amount of hiring discrimination hasn’t changed in the last 25 years.

Your unemployment can even have an effect on your chance of being hired, as applicants that have gaps in their employment history and have been unemployed for a certain amount of time are seen less favorably by reviewers.

But luckily there are some methods that have been able to reduce hiring bias.

For instance, anonymous applications that didn’t indicate gender or ethnicity have been found to level the playing field for candidates, increasing their chances of getting an interview. Even when raters just had to commit to the value of credentials before reviewing applications, gender bias was eliminated. And when female candidates make up at least 37 percent of the hiring pool they are seen as more qualified.

To get more women to apply, one study found that using feminine-coded words – like “support” and opposed to “lead” – would make women more likely to apply, while having no effect on male candidates. Companies can also structure the interview process by asking the same set of questions and use a diverse group of employees to assess candidates in order to help minimize hiring bias.

Hopefully, more companies will begin to implement these methods and we will soon see more diverse, balanced, and fair workplaces.


Ashleen Knutsen is a science writer and editor in Los Angeles. After a decade of experience in engineering and research, she decided to pursue a career in science communications to not only spark women and girls’ interest in STEM, but to let them know that they too can change the world.


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