Introduction to GBA+

Case study: Unconscious bias in recruitment

“Every day we’re making hiring mistakes because we don’t see things as they are, but as who we are.”

Gail Tolstoi-Miller
CEO of ConsultNetworx

On average, it takes six seconds for a recruiter to review a resume. Given the short review time, how can they have reviewed and processed all of the candidates’ qualities and experience? The likely answer is that they haven’t.

Research has suggested that our brains have to process over 10 million bits and pieces of information at any given time. You may be asking yourself how your brain can possibly process that much information at once. The short answer is that it can’t. The human brain can only process around 40 pieces of information at one time. This is where our biases come in to play. As we discussed earlier, our unconscious minds have created shortcuts so that we can make decisions quickly, and we aren’t aware of it.

Gail Tolstoi-Miller shares her experience with unconscious bias as a recruiter and career coach in her TedTalk. Gail was certain that the candidate she interviewed for a position would be selected, but the hiring manager didn’t hire her. Given the candidate’s qualifications and accomplishments, Gail asked why. The manager explained that it was a “gut feeling”. That “gut feeling” that we’ve all experienced is another way to describe an unconscious bias. It is the result of the shortcuts that our brains have made, and these shortcuts aren’t always logical or rational. As an afterthought, the manager said, “Did you notice she was wearing white pumps? White pumps shouldn’t be worn after Labour Day!” The manager’s belief that white shouldn’t be worn after Labour Day was so strong, her associations and biases were so ingrained, that it kept her from recognizing the value the candidate had to offer. The manager most likely wasn’t aware that the white pumps had influenced her hiring decision.

Unconscious biases in recruitment can be an advantage or disadvantage, and can be the deciding factor in being hired or rejected. Biases can be triggered by a recruiter viewing a political tweet, a candidate’s choice in post-secondary school, tone and accent, or something as simple as wearing white shoes after Labour Day.