Unconcious Bias

Are you unconsciously biased?

Recently, I went to an Indeed conference that focused on candidates and their experience while job seeking. It was here that I became aware of how much sub-conscious biased there can be in the recruitment process.

My ultimate question is:

In a world full of multi-culturalism and inclusion in the workplace, are we, as hiring managers or recruiters, unconsciously biased towards potential candidates due to their ethnic names?

Clinical Psychologist, Linda Blair states that “it takes only seven seconds for us to judge another person when we first meet them. It is not a conscious process, so we don’t even realise we’re doing it.”

When hiring managers and recruiters screen CV’s, what is the first thing they look at? The applicant’s name. It is most likely even in the file name.

Professors Alison Booth, Andrew Leigh and Elena Varganova from the Australian National University conducted an experiment to see if applicants with ethnic names found it harder to proceed to the interview stage than those with an Anglo-Saxon name.

During the experiment, the Professors disseminated 4000 fake job applications to advertisers in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. All the applications stated that the candidate had an Australian education and equal work experience. The results found that those with Chinese names were more likely to be knocked back than those with Anglo-Saxon names. Similarly, those with Italian, Middle Eastern and Indigenous names also proved to have a lower call back rate for an interview.

In 2015, Emilly and Yifan from the Australian Federation of International Students wrote about their friend, Lung, who was an RMIT graduate with distinctions, majored in IT and had successfully completed several internships. Lung was exasperated when he could not even receive a single call back for an interview. It was at this point that a friend suggested that he change his name to a ‘western’ name. Jason (Lung) now works in an IT firm.

Was this an isolated case? No.

Agnok Lueth, a Sudanese refugee struggled to get an interview from job applications until he assumed the alias of ‘Daniel McClean’. He then received five callbacks out of six applications.

This is shocking!

At the recent Indeed conference, I met a recruitment consultant who, after the presentation that brought our attention to the biasedness, told me of his now realised guiltiness to being biased.

This recruiter (who shall remain anonymous) was recently CV screening for a Sales role. He came across names like Faaduma, Sukhbir, Kiranjot, Ting and Chathuri. These names that are not your typical Anglo-Saxon names like John, Jane or Taylor.

He hesitantly admitted with shame that, “the first thought I had was, would they speak English very well?”

It was at this point that he said to us, “why did I do that?!”.

This shines the spotlight on both the candidate experience, the recruiter experience and how they link together. Most importantly, this is a great wake up call to all hiring managers and recruiters to self-evaluate and make adjustments to their processes, if necessary, to eliminate biased decisions.


Thankfully, we learned some tips for recruiters to help even the playing field for candidates:

  1. Focus on the skills, qualifications and experience of the candidate

After all, this is the most important criteria when matching a candidate to a position.

  1. If you feel like you may be subconsciously discriminating, ask a colleague for their opinion

Two sets of eyes are better than one! You could show a colleague the skills, qualifications and experience of a candidate and see if they would match them to the position. This takes all the fluff away and bases a decision on the key criteria.

  1. Use “Blind Applications”

Potentially you could introduce ‘Blind Applications’ into your company. This is when the application does not have a name attached to it until the decision has been made to proceed with the application.

  1. Hide Names in your talent search

When searching the Talent Pool for candidates on Seek, tick the “Hide Names” box to take away any opportunity for unconscious biased to sneak in.

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