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| 4 minutes read

Hiring Bias: How to Acknowledge and Avoid It!

The year 2021 has just started and employers both large and small are still reeling from the curve balls in 2020. Business owners and c-suite executives across the country have grappled with questions from Will our business survive COVID-19? to How do we maintain a peaceful workplace in the face of racial unrest? Many employers have taken that last question a step further and are now asking: How does our organization avoid biases – especially racial bias - in our employment decisions? Today we will look at hiring biases from a 300 foot view and attempt to provide your organization with a few helpful tips to avoid them.

Let’s start with the foundation. Unconscious or Implicit Bias are the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Unconscious biases are formed over time and are influenced by the people in our inner circles, where we live, schools we attend, social groups or clubs that we join, and even the types of media (news, movies, television shows, music, and social media) to which we are exposed. Due to the myriad of influences, many of us do not realize that we have unconscious biases – yet we all do. Once we can admit that, we are better prepared to recognize and combat those biases, especially in the hiring process.

Before we look at some different types of hiring biases, it is important to understand why you want to avoid hiring biases in the first place. Nearly every organization wants to have the best and brightest employees working together to achieve positive results for its clients, consumers, or constituents. For youth organizations, that means having a diverse workforce that can best meet the needs of the youth it serves. One study  has shown that companies with culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to perform above their respective national industry means. According to that same study, gender diverse leadership teams are 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profits. These statistics show that diverse professionals are a crucial component of high performing organizations.

Now that we understand the business case for diversity, let’s look at several different types of hiring biases. This list is not exhaustive, but here are 5 common types of hiring biases:

  1. Confirmation Bias – making a quick judgment about a candidate based on one thing on their resume or one aspect of their appearance and then using the remainder of the interview to confirm that judgment. Ex. She went to Harvard so she must be an excellent candidate. He’s a great dresser, so he must be an awesome employee.
  2. Expectation/Anchor Bias – basing the hiring decision on one single piece of information about the candidate. Ex. The candidate interviewing is the exact opposite personality from the last person in this role who you loved. Because of the personality differences, you find a way to disqualify this candidate.
  3. The Horn Effect – this is when you allow something negative – often something superficial – to jade your overall view of the candidate. Ex. The candidate’s initial handshake was weak, his shoes were dirty, or she had too many ear piercings. None of these directly correlate to the candidate’s ability to perform the job, but you’ve already decided not to hire him or her.
  4. Affinity Bias – this occurs when you allow something that you have in common with a candidate to influence your decision – he or she went to the same college that you attended, they are from your hometown, or they are also members of your country club/private gym. Ex. I only hire graduates of Howard University! I am an avid golfer, so I hire other golfers. While it is human nature to like people who have commonalities, it is easy to see how this bias can negatively affect someone of a different race, sex, or socio-economic status.
  5. Beauty Bias – this bias causes people to believe that beautiful or more attractive people are more successful. However, there is absolutely no correlation between being good eye candy and a productive employee!

There are more types of hiring biases, but you get the point. And if we are honest with ourselves, we have likely all fallen prey to one or more of these unconscious hiring biases and potentially hired the wrong candidate. So how do we do better?

Organizations and decision-makers within those organizations can avoid hiring biases with a few easy steps. First, understand biases and become familiar with the different types of biases. Think about your last few hires and where you may have succumbed to an implicit bias. Next, actively work to not allow biases to influence your hiring decision. Within the hiring process, incorporate standardized questions for all candidates and/or a work sample test or scenario that gives you a tangible data point to compare. In addition, be consistent and transparent in the hiring process which will help to weed out the bias shortcuts that cause organizations to miss great candidates. Finally, set diversity goals – not quotas – and review them on an annual basis. This is a great way to measure how your organization is doing in moving the needle toward a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  - Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Hiring biases matter and, with a little effort, we can all root out the hindrances to forming the best team for our organizations. If you need assistance, contact me at


employment, employment issues, youth services law