Avoiding Gender Bias in Recruitment/Selection Processes (Case Study 2)

Reducing Unconscious Bias to Increase Women’s Success in IT

Research shows that even individuals committed to equality harbor unconscious biases that impact everyday decisions and interactions. One area where these biases can have a profound effect is in recruitment and selection — from crafting and distribution of job postings to interviewing and hiring. The good news is that the steps below can help counteract these biases.

Advertise and recruit in venues that target diverse audiences. Take stock of your current recruiting venues and plan strategic efforts to reach underrepresented groups. These are key websites for advertising to diverse candidate pools:

Ensure that job announcements allow for flexibility in screening and selecting candidates. Only criteria that are necessary for the job should be listed as “required” qualifications. List desired criteria as “preferred”; this allows maximum flexibility in considering different combinations of strengths.

Examine language in job announcements for bias. Does the language subtly reflect stereotypes (e.g., “results-driven,” “action-oriented,” “people-person”)? These phrases are vague descriptions of people rather than behaviors and can conjure up biases about who is usually considered “action-oriented” or a “people person.” These phrases also can deter high-quality candidates from applying for these positions if they do not think of themselves in these terms or have not been told that they are this “type of person.” Phrases such as “ability to take initiative and produce results” or “ability to collaborate effectively with a talented team” describe behaviors and leave less room for biased interpretations.

Question these statements.

  • “This candidate just isn’t a good ‘fit’.”

Interviewers frequently use this explanation to express vague, intangible “vibes.” These “vibes,” however, often reflect unconscious biases. Instead, identify the specific reasons for “a poor fit” and examine whether these reasons reflect biases. For example, a candidate may seem “a poor fit” because his/her communication style differs from that of most current employees. Ask whether this style necessarily hinders the candidate’s ability to do the job or might it simply be a different, but equally effective, style. Failing to ask these questions can lead selection committee members to primarily hire candidates similar to themselves.

  • “I’m for diversity as long as we pick the best candidate for the job.”

It is important to uphold quality in hiring decisions. Often, however, what counts as “best” may be based in an unconscious belief about who does this kind of work. In reality, there can be multiple, equally acceptable definitions of “best.” Listing the components of “best,” identifying some indicators of those components, and evaluating applicants on those indicators is useful.

Take your time and reduce distractions. Research shows that unconscious bias has a more pronounced influence on decisions when time pressure or distractions exist.

Examine evaluation tools for biases. Ensure that these tools clearly list relevant criteria — and only relevant criteria. Have selection committee members rate candidates on the criteria and provide reasons for their ratings. Remind evaluators to look for “nontraditional” evidence that demonstrates qualifications (e.g., overcoming adverse circumstances might be stronger evidence of future success than attending a “top school”).


Are all of the “required” criteria listed necessary for doing this job well?
Do the criteria allow candidates to demonstrate important life experiences that may not show up on traditional resumes?
Do any of the criteria reflect unnecessary assumptions or biases about the “kind of person” who usually does this job?
Do you include criteria such as “ability to work on diverse teams or with a diverse range of people”?
Could additional criteria be included that would open up possibilities for a wider range of excellent candidates?
Does any of the language in the description describe people rather than behaviors or subtly reflect stereotypes (e.g., “results-driven,” “action-oriented,” “people-person”)?


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Author: Catherine Ashcraft