Removing Unconscious Bias from Your Hiring Process

Hiring the right person for a role is a challenge.

Hiring teams need to evaluate a candidate’s credentials, work history and experience, education, interest, and more. HR repeats this process for every candidate—and they have to move fast to make sure top talent stays in the pipeline in today’s competitive hiring market. With so many moving pieces, the influence of unseen bias can sometimes be overlooked.

Read on to learn more about unseen bias, its impact on HigherEd hiring, and how you can remove it from your hiring process.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious or implicit bias is when you make a decision without realizing it (unconsciously) based on stereotypes or underlying beliefs. This can cause you to make decisions that favor certain groups over others—without knowing that you’ve done so.

Unconscious bias can come into play during the hiring process by impacting how you perceive someone based on items in their resume, like their gender, race, age, or education level. Hiring managers might subconsciously identify affinity with someone who has a similar background as them, pushing them arbitrarily to the top of the hiring pool, or make unconscious assumptions about someone who doesn’t fit an idea they had of the open role.

For instance, gender inequality is still prevalent in HigherEd: women are underrepresented in both top administrative positions and among tenure-track and senior faculty in colleges and universities. When the current makeup of a department (for instance, a science department) is predominantly male, hiring managers likely have an unconscious idea that the next person to fill a role will be male, making them more drawn to the male candidates that come through the hiring process.


How can we address unconscious bias?

There are many ways that colleges and universities can work to eliminate unconscious bias in their hiring processes.

1. Review job descriptions for exclusionary language:

Unconscious bias can start before applicants even begin applying for a role—job descriptions can contain exclusionary language that only applies to a certain candidate pool. For instance, certain phrases lean masculine and make it difficult for women to picture themselves in a role, discouraging them from applying in the first place. Examples of stereotyping language can include: “‘dynamic” (ie, young), ‘strong’ (male), ‘experienced’ (old).”

There are tools that can help identify exclusionary language in job descriptions and suggest alternative language.

2. Reconsider qualification requirements:

It’s time for HigherEd to re-think the qualifications and criteria for open roles. HigherEd is facing new challenges with hiring and attracting candidates, and position descriptions are often highly specific about the education and years of experience required.

Sarah Gasparini, Talent Manager at St. Catherine University, spoke about increasing the diversity of their faculty and staff in a panel at a recent PeopleAdmin event: “Our candidate pools have already been diverse. We’re working on shifting our internal perspective on what it means to be a qualified candidate. It’s not ok to have a candidate pool of 20 people and only talk to three because those three graduated from a certain institution with a certain degree. We need to revisit what it means to have the minimum qualifications? And then speak to everyone who has those minimum qualifications.”

3. Remove identifying information from resumes:

Many platforms offer blind hiring tools that can remove all identifying information—like name, gender, race, address, age, and more—from resumes, so that applicants are judged on their skills alone.

4. Consider soft skill qualifications over education requirements:

Hiring teams can also create assessments that help identify candidates based on “soft skills,” rather than purely education and training, which can also support finding internal candidates who might be able to upskill into a position.


Final thoughts

The National Association of Colleges and Employers is calling for colleges and universities to adopt DEI as a “core business pillar.” And the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium notes that, “educating people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures requires a diverse academic workforce,” which makes diversity especially important for HigherEd.

There’s no question that colleges and universities need to get more diverse hires in the door—and reducing unconscious bias in the hiring process is the first step.

If you’re interested in tools that empower your team to hire better, reach out to our experts.