“We all have unconscious bias”: Reviewing your Recruitment Process is Crucial

Is your recruitment process fair? Does your process allow people from all walks of life to demonstrate their skills and potential? Do you actively look at your processes to ensure any bias is removed? 

If you’re answer is ‘Yes’, there’s actually a chance you might be mistaken.  

Unconscious and indirect bias can sneak into the recruitment process without detection. So, we’re sharing what you need to know to identify it, understand it, and address it. 

We offer a Diversity and Inclusion Audit as part of our services, if you’d like to know more you can contact our team via the ‘Find out more’ form.

What is ‘indirect’ bias? How is it different from ‘direct’ bias?

Indirect bias can be difficult to identify, so understanding it, and how it is different from direct bias, is key. 

The Perception Institute describes ‘indirect bias’, also known as ‘unconscious’ or ‘implicit’ bias, as “when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge”. Their commonplace example is taken from studies that “show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it”. 

In a recruitment context, ‘indirect bias’ is a little more complex. As highlighted in our insight paper, ‘Optimising Diversity in Future Talent Recruitment’, indirect bias occurs when a minority group is less likely to meet a hiring criterion than the majority group. When looking at the Future Talent world, one of the biggest areas of indirect bias is linked to educational advantage.

If we assess for any criteria which correlates with academic success, we run the risk of bias towards people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. There’s a direct correlation between education and social disadvantage and, because there’s also a correlation between social disadvantage and ethnicity, particularly when it comes to Black Heritage, we are likely to be exhibiting indirect bias towards Black applicants and applicants of low socio-economic status. 

Many different types of hidden bias can influence our selection process when it comes to hiring. These biases can also include: 

  • Stereotyping. This is when opinions on a candidate are formed based on a set idea about what a particular type of person is like, especially an idea that is wrong. Opinions are formed about how people of a given race, gender, religion or other characteristics will think, act, or what they’ll be like. 
  • The ‘halo effect’. This occurs when one positive characteristic or strength influences the entire recruitment process. An example could be when a candidate has a degree from a prestigious institution, so they are assumed to be highly competent, and they’re looked at in a favourable light. 
  • The ‘pitchfork effect’. This is the opposite of the ‘halo effect’. This is when one negative characteristic or point overshadows the recruitment process. For example, a candidate answers the first questions in an interview slowly, and so they are believed to not be qualified for, or that they won’t be very good at the job. 
  • Nonverbal bias. This occurs when an assumption or opinion is made, positive or negative, based on someone’s body language, personal appearance, or style. Examples include; hair style or length, tattoos, weight, the way someone speaks, mannerisms, or how a candidate is dressed. 
  • “Like me” syndrome. Also known as ‘affinity bias’, this happens when a candidate appears to be very similar to the interviewer or hiring manager in style or personality, or has a common place of education or background. For these reasons, the interviewer feels they would be the best candidate for the job. We have a tendency to favour people who are similar to us. When interviewing a candidate with a similar personality, style, interests or experiences, the interviewer may assume they are the best candidate and make their decision on these characteristics rather than job criteria. 

The Perception Institute goes on to define ‘direct bias’, also known as ‘conscious’ or ‘explicit’ bias, as “attitudes and beliefs we have about a person or group on a conscious level”. It is important to note that “expressions of explicit bias (discrimination, hate speech, etc.) occur as the result of deliberate thought”. 

The effects of bias on organisations

It might seem obvious to some, but organisations with more diversity, especially in leadership, experience greater innovation, more robust decision-making capabilities, and improved performance financially.  

In fact, a 2018 study by Boston Consulting Group, a global consulting firm, found that revenue was on average 19% higher in companies with above-average diversity scores, than those with below-average scores. 

The 2017 UK based McGregor-Smith review found that the potential of “full representation of BME individuals across the labour market through improved participation and progression is estimated to be £24 billion a year, which represents 1.3% of GDP”. 

Tech Nation’s report on diversity and inclusion found that “higher levels of gender diversity positively correlates with higher firm turnover”, when boards are diverse, they see 0.7% higher turnover than non-diverse tech company boards. 

When hiring people from a large variety of backgrounds, you get different opinions and perspectives. Your organisation can reap the benefits of inclusion in the form of different skills, better business, more productivity, and more creativity. 

It’s clear that if your organisation isn’t embracing diversity at every level, you’re missing out. 

Dealing with bias in your organisation and recruitment processes

Bias can pop up anywhere, so it’s important to commit to combatting it at every opportunity within your organisation and place of work. There are many ways to start exploring how you can improve inclusion to be more accessible and equitable for all. Though it is important to note that there is no ‘silver bullet’ to combat bias; a multifaceted, consistent, whole organisational approach is needed. 


Awareness allows us to manage and keep an eye on any potential biases we might have. We should all take steps to learn and make a habit of questioning any blanket assumptions we make and where they might come from. Increased awareness helps us to identify any instances of bias we come across and subsequently act. 

It also allows us to be aware of any biases we might indirectly codify into our automatic processes or AI capabilities, an increasingly difficult and complex area, as outlined in our Webinar, ‘How AI can amplify rather than remove bias’, with the ISE. 

Question and Challenge  

Questioning and speaking up when you see an assumption being made is crucial. Sniffing out biases isn’t just a self-reflection exercise, but we should question other’s opinions too if we suspect any bias. Ask yourself or your colleagues; is the opinion based on factual evidence? Does the assumption involve assuming something about a whole group of people? This will allow for the process of solving any issues to get underway. 

Promote Dialogue 

Encouraging conversation is another important step to tackling bias in the workplace. When we discuss opinions and ideas with other’s we gain a wider perspective and evaluate our own beliefs. This is why it is a good idea to include a variety of people in discussions and make sure everyone has the opportunity to share their points of view. 


Listening might seem self-explanatory, but it’s important to ensure you’re actually absorbing what people are saying and reflecting appropriately. As humans in conversation, we often evaluate and begin formulating our response before the other person has even finished talking. but this can limit our understanding if we haven’t given ourselves time to process what has been said. Active listening is all about allowing for pauses in conversation, and having empathy by trying to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. 

Call Bias Out When You See it 

Calling out bias when you see it is a responsibility we all have, but if you feel awkward about it, it doesn’t have to be confrontational! You could ask for specificity or an explanation of why the person in question thinks a certain opinion, this may allow them to think through what they’ve said and identify any bias. It’s important to create a supportive and open environment so people feel confident raising any concerns. Encouraging learning and growth tends to be more effective than shaming, so try to focus on reflection instead of conflict. 

Although, it is important to note that encouraging reflection and growth when bias occurs isn’t always possible or sensible. This is especially the case for instances of direct bias and offensive incidents. 

Tuft’s guide to ‘Calling Out’ vs ‘Calling In’ addresses the ways you can raise the issue and interrupt bias, and could be a helpful resource for your organisation. 

Regular Reviews and Analysis 

Making sure your recruitment process is inclusive, and diverse hires aren’t a one-time deal. It is important to make sure your recruitment is free from indirect bias by regularly reviewing the systems in place and providing staff with training. This also applies to any automation or artificial intelligence you may be using; reviewing data such as application numbers and sift-out rates is crucial to ensuring your processes comply with Diversity and Inclusion laws and helps to remove any codified biases. However, going beyond simple compliance and truly embracing inclusive and equitable culture and recruitment processes, will have many advantages for your organisation. 

Here at Amberjack, we’re committed to raising the bar, and by using our tracking and reporting services we can help you on the road to success.  


Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it is crucial to diversify your hiring teams themselves! Not only does this allow for all prospective candidates to see themselves represented in the recruitment process, allowing for a better candidate experience and increased company loyalty, but it helps to ensure that a variety of opinions are considered when looking at applicants. 

How will you combat bias? 

Now equipped with more knowledge on indirect bias, and some steps for identifying and acting on bias, it is up to you to decide how to carry these insights forward.  

Amberjack can be a helping hand in your journey towards more inclusive hiring, and utilising the benefits such inclusion will bring. Our doors are always open for discussion, helping you to know how to get started. 

Share this Article

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top