Hiring bias could be reduced by allowing hiring managers to “opt in” to the information they want to see about a job candidate, rather than asking them to “opt out” of information they don’t want to see, according to a study from researchers at Cornell University and Duke University.
With an “opt in” process, hiring managers were less likely to choose to see potentially biasing applicant information, the researchers found. The option also preserved hiring managers’ autonomy.
“We found that having to actively select each piece of information leads individuals to be a little more thoughtful about what they’re selecting,” Sean Fath, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, said in a statement.
“The main takeaway was that if you require people to actively opt into what information they want to see, as opposed to just giving it all to them and trusting them to opt out of the stuff likely to cause bias, you’ll get better outcomes in terms of what they ultimately choose to receive,” he said.
In the study, about 800 participants with hiring experience screened applicants for a hypothetical job position and decided who should advance to the interview stage. The participants received a checklist with seven items they could choose to see about the applicants. Five items included information typically requested in job applications, such as education credentials and work history, while two items — the applicant's race and gender or the applicant’s name and picture — didn’t indicate job performance and could trigger bias.
As part of the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to either “opt in” to the items they wanted to see or “opt out” of the items they didn’t want to see. They were also randomly assigned to choose information they would like to see if they were screening applicants or what information they would like a peer to see when screening. In addition, they were randomly assigned to a checklist where they could choose to view the applicants’ race and gender, or the applicants’ name and photo.
Overall, participants selected fewer items that could lead to potential bias when they needed to “opt in,” when they were choosing for a peer and when the checklist offered the option to view race and gender.
To reduce hiring bias, according to the report, organizations could appoint someone to itemize the different types of information available about job applicants and require hiring managers to opt into information they want to see. In addition, organizations can train hiring managers to consider what information they would provide to a peer or colleague before deciding what information to receive themselves.
“People tend to think others are more susceptible to bias than they are, so they think others shouldn’t receive potentially biasing information,” Fath said. “Once they’ve made that decision for someone else, a desire to be cognitively consistent is probably going to lead them to make the same choice for themselves.”
Numerous studies have indicated that hiring bias persists, particularly when recruiters or hiring managers see candidates who are similar to themselves. Even still, both men and women tend to prefer male candidates, applicants with White-sounding names are more likely to be favored and “safer” options tend to be chosen more frequently than “unusual” ones.
In certain jobs, such as those in STEM, employers rate female and minority candidates lower than White men, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania. Although employers in the humanities and social sciences didn’t rate female and minority candidates lower than average, employers gave less credit to female and minority candidates for prestigious internships across all industries.
Nearly half of hiring managers have also admitted to age bias, according to a Resume Builder survey, due to concerns about tech skills and possible retirement. Experts have recommended employers reduce the potential for bias by anonymizing resumes for review, testing the wording of job ads and systematizing the use of social media and job boards.