Gender bias is a hiring problem, point blank and period. Whether or not it's conscious, gender biases plague hiring decisions across all industries. And, if left unchecked, they perpetuate sexism in the workplace by keeping women from specific roles and male-dominated fields. As such, success and economic stability become evermore unattainable for women.
More and more companies are working to combat both implicit and unconscious bias in hiring, but removing this kind of discriminatory behavior is no easy feat.
What is bias in recruitment? Recruitment bias with regards to gender refers to the discriminatory treatment of job applicants and candidates based on that applicant or candidate's gender. Gender bias may not always be explicitly discriminatory, however.
Rather, much of gender bias in regards to the hiring process is unconscious. So, what is unconscious bias in recruitment? It refers to the preconceived social stereotypes that individuals have about certain groups of people; these stereotypes from outside their conscious awareness.
So why does gender bias exist? Employers tend to favor men not because they are prejudiced against women but, rather, because they have the inherent perception that men are generally more likely to perform better specific tasks, according to the research paper, When Gender Discrimination Is Not About Gender, written by Katherine B. Coffman and Christine L. Exley who are both assistant professors at Harvard Business School. They teamed up with Stanford University economics professor Muriel Niederle, as well.
“We find ample evidence of discrimination against women, as employers are significantly less likely to hire a woman compared to an equally able man,” the paper reads. “This discrimination, however, does not appear to be driven by gender-specific stereotypes or animus.”
This is known as statistical discrimination.
“With statistical discrimination, you have certain beliefs about men versus women and what they can do, and given those beliefs, you choose the person who you think is the best person to hire — you are simply acting in a way that you think will maximize your profits,” Coffman told the Harvard Business School. “With taste-based discrimination, you know a certain person will be productive, but you’re sacrificing that by not hiring that person. We did not find so much of that at all... We can all agree that taste-based discrimination is a really bad thing if you’re prejudiced against women and don’t want to hire them. But statistical discrimination, where people act on their beliefs about average differences in ability between men and women, is thornier and is particularly difficult to root out. The people doing the hiring might not even realize they are acting on those beliefs.”
Yes, it is absolutely illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of their race, color, religion, sex (including their gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 years or older), disability or genetic information. This means that, if they hire another person based on their gender, they are not hiring another candidating because of their gender.
Improving gender bias isn't easy, and that's because it's not always so implicit. In fact, a 2000 study, which is cited in Google senior vice president of people operations Laszlo Bock's book, "Work Rules," suggests that recruiters actually form opinions of people in the first 10 seconds of meeting them — and then they spend the entire rest of the interview looking for ways to confirm their preconceived suspicions.
The truth is that we're all biased a little, whether or not we're conscious of it. So here are five easy-to-implement steps to help improve your gender bias.
AI can be programmed to ignore certain demographic information about candidates, including their gender, race, age and other factors that you may unconsciously discriminate against. This kind of recruiting software is becoming ever more popular to screen, rank and grade candidates.
Structured interviews are more predictive of on-the-job performance, according to a wealth of research. But you can standardize the interview process even more by using a script to ask questions and keep the interview fairer and more objective. This means forgoing all the small talk in the beginning that might make you form an earlier opinion of the person, and cutting straight to the chase. Get right to the same questions you ask all job applicants to liberate the recruitment process of inherent bias.
Be completely honest with yourself. If you think you may like one candidate more than another, ask yourself why you truly think that. Recognize your opinions and think critically on them. You might not realize your bias until you really look for it.
According to the Harvard Business Review, having the same social identity can impact hiring choices, which is why women are more likely to hire more women, and men are more likely to hire more men. Therefore, including both male and female recruiters and hiring managers can help to keep the balance.
“It seems to be the case that all employer types, on average, are willing to engage in discrimination against members of the lower-performing group,” the aforementioned paper reads. “But the extent of this discrimination is reduced when the employer shares a known demographic characteristic with the lower-performing group.”
If you still feel as though gender bias is plaguing your hiring process, even after taking the above steps, it's time to rewind. Take a step back and look at your job description one more time. Check the words that you have chosen to explain the job. You might be surprised to learn that there are more than 25,000 “problem phrases” that indicate some kind of gender bias in job adverts.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.