How to Face Implicit Bias Head-On When Hiring and Build a More Effective Workforce


Every organization should promote equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. Today, this statement is obvious, uncontroversial, and broadly accepted. Workplace diversity is the right thing to do, and it’s linked to increased productivity and profits for the company. The fact that this evidence hasn’t eradicated workplace discrimination points to an issue that runs deeper within our company cultures.

Overt discrimination is rare these days. Most people don’t see themselves as prejudice. We assume that if discrimination is happening, it’s intentional and ‘it’s someone else, not me, doing it’. Yet there is a mountain of data to show discrimination in hiring is still widespread. Like all tough problems, this one is complicated.

Most discrimination these days is a subtle form of unintentional discrimination, known as implicit bias, or implicit social cognition. The unconscious and automatic judgments and decisions we make without realizing we are making them. And there’s the in-group bias which causes us to unconsciously prefer working with people who are similar to us. These unconscious impulses are shortcuts that helped our primal ancestors survive, but cause us to make errors in judgement today.

We like to believe that we make rational decisions, but 90% of our behavior is generated outside of consciousness. “Logic is often the last step in the process. The conscious intellectual brain steps in to produce a rational backstory to justify impulses generated in the murky corners of the unconscious mind.” -Janet Crawford, Neuroscience business expert

When you’re making decisions in hiring, and you get this gut feeling that this person just isn’t right, your conscious brain will step-in with a justification, picking apart the person’s qualifications or competencies or making one of these common justifications:

● She just isn’t ready for this role.
● He wasn’t the right fit for our company culture.
● She didn’t have the right attitude for the team.
● We want to make sure we hire the best person for the job, no matter what.
● This candidate isn’t bad, but we have another candidate that is perfect for the job in every way.

But how do you correct behavior and attitudes that people aren’t even aware of?

Step 1
Admitting that we are guilty of implicit bias is step one. None of us are immune. Including those among us who believe we would never discriminate. Our brains are hard wired for cognitive biases. We can’t get rid of our biases, but being aware can help us identify when these biases may be affecting our decisions. Most organizations’ anti-discrimination efforts focus on the obvious and intentional forms of discrimination, because implicit bias is harder to identify, harder to prove, and less clearly defined in anti-discrimination laws. Failure to take action against implicit bias means your organization is likely guilty of the practice.

Step 2
Training and education for dealing with implicit bias. Use this training as an opportunity to promote a culture that embraces all types of diversity: gender, ethnicity, experience, education, and others as being a company strength.

Step 3
Include a system for checks and balances such as anonymous job applications and a diverse hiring panel. An example of how this can foster equality can be found in institutions who use a double-blind method to review scientific research. The number of women who get published at these institutions increases significantly when a double-blind method is used to review papers.

Step 4
Review the metrics for your organization and offer continued training and education for improvement. If your company demographics match the demographics of the local population, chances are you’ve been successful in lowering the impact that implicit biases can have on hiring decisions.

Diversity in Action
Companies that find it vital to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace often make it a part of their core beliefs. One of Degreed’s core principles is equality. We seek equality—gender, ethnic, and otherwise—in our teams, practices and process. Our company has a goal that every team is 50/50 gender balanced and that every office reflect the diversity of the market where it operates. For more on our principles and what it’s like to work at Degreed check out our careers page.

Written by Sonja Schurig
Sonja is a Product Marketing Manager at Degreed.