Explicit gender bias in the recruitment process is becoming less common, but the reality of the situation is that it’s nuanced. Identifying and tackling structural barriers to equality is complex and requires a deep dive into the issues and a comprehensive plan in order to make a difference.
As well as those who identify as women, non-binary professionals and LGBTIA+ candidates are also likely to be affected by bias in the hiring process. Implementing practices to tackle gender bias in all its forms can reduce negative outcomes and promote a more diverse workforce.
What is gender bias?
Gender bias is a form of discrimination that sees one sex favored over the other, and historically it’s often been women who’ve received fewer opportunities in the workplace. Bias comes in two forms - conscious and unconscious - with the second type harder to overcome.
Assuming certain traits will be prevalent in a certain sex is a common issue associated with gender bias, with men expected to be more analytical and women more emotional. This has led to more males being found in leadership roles and females at the lower end of the gender pay gap.
What are some examples of gender biases?
Many HR teams don’t think there’s gender discrimination within their hiring practices, but if you recognize any of the examples below, then it’s time to redraw your processes.
Gender bias in hiring statistics
To fully understand the impact gender bias has on female and non-binary candidates, it’s worth looking at studies into the issue. Data reveals some of the implications associated with barriers to gender equality in hiring and by extension the workplace.
Is it illegal to hire based on gender?
In the US, it’s illegal to discriminate against an applicant or employee because of their sex, including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy in all aspects of employment. Similar rules apply in the UK and many other nations, so the law is on the side of the repressed, but how such legislation is interpreted will affect everyday hiring practices.
How to tackle gender bias in your hiring process
Tackling gender discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, requires a clear strategy. There are a number of approaches that can help to break down barriers to gender equality and it makes sense to combine several of them to see a significant improvement.
1. AI in recruiting
Using AI in recruitment is one way to ensure data is being evaluated fairly without assumptions or biases. It can process large amounts of data in one go and get better at identifying the best candidates as it progresses through its learning journey. Of course, AI is only as good as the quality of the data it's fed, but by eliminating humans you can remove their judgements, conscious or otherwise.
2. Remove gendered words and write inclusive job descriptions
Non-gendered job descriptions go further than just removing words like man, woman, male female, he or she. To truly perfect the art of publishing gender neutral job descriptions, you need to think about coded language and the way it could be interpreted by potential candidates.
Terms such as leader, analytical and decisive are typically considered to refer to men. Meanwhile, honest, dependable and committed are often thought to skew towards women. Female candidates might rule themselves out right from the beginning if job adverts are written in this way.
3. Anonymize CVs
The next phase of the process is generally to review resumes and traditionally, these documents provide all the information required to make a biased decision. Implement a system to anonymize CVs, removing names and other gender indicators to make sure male and female candidates are judged solely on their skills and experience.
4. Switch to structured interviews
Once you’re face-to-face it becomes more difficult to cut out unconscious bias, but structured interviews are an effective approach. They involve asking all candidates the same questions, but also doing so in the same order. This creates a level playing field and should prevent people asking things differently depending on gender at the interview stage.
5. Involve both men and women in the hiring process
As it’s been found interviewers are more likely to hire people like themselves, it’s important that panels be made up of both men and women. Being weighted in one direction or another offers the chance for unconscious bias to disadvantage some candidates over others based on gender, so the more diversity the better.
6. Ask work sample-style questions
Discovering the approach a candidate would take to a task is much more useful than discussing their experience. Use work sample questions that include a realistic scenario they may find themselves in if they were to be given the role and ask them how they would tackle it. This puts the emphasis on the future and not opportunities they’ve been offered or denied in the past.
7. Adopt a standardized scorecard to evaluate candidates
Establish the criteria for what makes a good answer to your questions in advance and score each candidate accordingly. Using this data to determine poor, average and excellent responses will help to negate any bias that may creep into the decision-making process.
8. Track gender diversity KPIs
Last but not least, it’s important to assess how well your new processes are working. If you’ve gone to the effort of trying to eliminate gender bias from your hiring process, put KPIs in place from the beginning to see how far you’ve come. Not only will you be able to identify what’s going well, but you’ll be able to tweak any areas that require it.