Uncovering Unconscious Biases Among Staffing Services

Diversity, inclusion, equality; how would you define your contingent workforce program’s intentionality behind these buzzwords? Whether you’re a human resource professional managing gig-workers from the buyer’s side, a program office smack dab in the middle, or a sourcing recruiter providing top talent out of an agency; the relevance of these human resource initiatives carries more weight than ever before.

The diversity among your contingent workforce is two-folds. One facet, pre-identified candidates, may be slightly easier for the buyer organization to mitigate as those engagement managers choosing the talent are full-time employees of their organization. Albeit the other, competitively sourced candidates via suppliers, is far more difficult to influence. 85% of talent acquisition leaders and recruiters feel pressure to increase diversity.

So, the questions beg to be asked; what are you doing to combat unconscious biases among your contingent workforce? How aware are you of the varying partisanship and prejudice that is rooted at the preliminary stages of the candidate sourcing process? This article will aim to scratch the surface of the borderline heedless recruiting efforts that could very well be contributing to your contingent workforce.

Unconscious biases are just that; a neurologically originated predisposed prejudice that is not only extremely difficult to identify, but also outlandishly strenuous to rectify. It is both a primitive instinct that was essential to our survival in early stages of development, and also an outdated excuse to make “gut-feeling” decisions that lack data reassurance. There are many types of biases that occur during the stages of sourcing. Some, like gender and ethnic biases, are easier to quantify. We’ve seen various forms of this bigotry for centuries. Others, like affinity and linguistic biases, can occur right under our nose without a trace. Allow us to divulge.

Gender Bias: Self-explanatory, but far more complex than we give it credit for. The battle to end compensation discrimination has been fought for decades. The bias that occurs in the preliminary stages of the job requisition process hinders women across all industries. Harvard and Princeton researchers found that blind auditions increased by 50% percent the likelihood that women would advance out of certain preliminary rounds and could explain between of the increase in the percentage females in the orchestras from 1970 to 1996.

Where else do we see gender bias occurring? Job descriptions. Linguistic bias occurs when certain words and/or phrases are catered more to a particular sex. Adjectives such as “aggressive” and “expert” convey heavy masculine connotation. Swapping the word “expert” for “authority” can help make the language more gender-neutral.

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Ethnic Bias: This is just as mainstream and intricate as gender bias. We see racial biases play both an adverse and arguably advantageous role. Whereas candidates with Asian sounding names are 28% less likely to score an interview in general, they comprise 17% of college-educated STEM jobs while only 10% of the workforce with a college degree are Asian. As a country, we’ve seen the repercussions of conscious ethnic and gender predispositions. Let’s dive deeper into those prejudices we aren’t inherently aware of.

Confirmation Bias: Have you ever been engaged in a debate or argument and leveraged the infinite knowledge of Google to validate your stance? When you search for the answer, what you type in the search bar is often geared to confirm your position in the argument, no? We all do it, even recruiters. During the sourcing process we often make snap decisions on perceived truths, and then subsequently look to justify that snap decision. Human nature is to believe that we are correct about the stance we have taken. Recruiters or engagement managers will ask unrelated questions, often not relevant to the role being sourced on, to elicit answers that reinforce their assumption. With the lingering pressure of cycle time weighing on all parties involved in the sourcing process, it’s vital to move swiftly. However, that may also be contributing to our biases — 60% of the time, interviewers make their decision about a candidate within 15 minutes of their initial conversation.

Halo & Horn Effect: Polar opposites, but both equally as destructive. Like the angel and devil that sit atop your shoulders, these biases fail to assess the entirety of offerings the candidate brings forward. The halo effect blinds recruiters and engagement managers of potential disqualifiers as they are too focused on a singular positive aspect that lead them to believe that candidate is heaven-sent. Whereas the horn effect infects the recruiter or manager with tunnel vision focusing only on a singular negative aspect, leading them to overlook all the positive qualities said candidate may possess.

Similarity Principle: Also known as the affinity bias, this detrimental construct plays out when a recruiter or engagement manager develops a sort of kinship toward a candidate that is driven by parallelism between them and the candidate. This bias is especially detrimental to diversity and inclusion for obvious reasons and could very well be perpetuating a less than diverse workforce among a multitude of skill sets.

The list of factors contributing to a recruiter’s clouded judgement is as endless as seasonal road construction during the summer months. Intuition, affect heuristics, and the Warren Harding Error are among other prejudices that prohibit veracious diversity throughout the global workforce.

In my next post in this series, I will zone in on proposed remedies inclusive of how technology advancements can support to combat these volatile unconscious biases. A truly diversified workforce starts on the ground level. With proper intentionality and relevant training, these biases can be mitigated to a certain extent. It is our duty to continue promoting practices that push equality, equity, and egalitarianism.


Derek Kimmerle

Derek Kimmerle
Derek Kimmerle is a customer success manager with Populus Group. He can be reached at dkimmerle (at) populusgroup (dot) com.

Derek Kimmerle

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