Brewers association

Hiring Bias: It’s More Subtle Than You Think

Bias, namely unconscious or implicit bias, has been a hot topic among social scientists, in the public sector, and for businesses of all sizes in recent years. However, most of the everyday conversations about bias that I have come across in the craft brewing community tend to focus on cultural bias– that is, relying on cultural stereotypes about a group of people to influence hiring decisions about a particular candidate.

Cultural biases are widespread and can have profound effects. Consider the results of this 2003 National Bureau of Economic Research study titled “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experience on discrimination in the labor market.“Researchers who conducted the study responded to help ads with a fabricated resume. Resumes submitted to hiring agencies were identical in all but one detail. To manipulate the organization’s racial perception of hiring, each resume is assigned either a stereotypical black or African American presentation name or a stereotypical white or European American presentation name.The results revealed significant discrimination against black or African American presentation names. White or European presenting names received 50% more callbacks for interviews.

Despite the continued prevalence of cultural discrimination within the workforce, there are other types of biases that may collectively further contribute to the current lack of diversity in the craft brewing industry. Overt bias, like the one described above, is relatively easy to identify and address. More subtle forms of bias are more difficult to recognize and their effects can therefore be much more difficult to stem.

Lesser Known Types of Hiring Bias

Below is a list of five types of biases that can enter the hiring process when reviewing application documents or interview stages. These aren’t the only types of hiring biases that have been documented and studied, but these five have risen to the top of my watch list over years of working with craft brewers.

Affinity bias is the tendency to favor people who look alike or who are perceived to be part of the same social or psychographic groups as the hiring managers. This type of bias can be difficult to identify because it is often part of seemingly positive intangible assessments such as “cultural fit”.

The Halo effect occurs when hiring managers assume that a candidate’s success or history of excellence in one area will automatically lead to success in others, or when a trait or achievement is used to make judgment globally on this person. This type of bias can benefit those who are very comfortable in interview settings – perhaps because they perceive the organization to be full of people like them and therefore they are more relaxed and confident – and those who have had the opportunity to excel in settings associated with prestige. This type of bias can be difficult to identify because identifying a candidate’s positive traits and accomplishments is one of the primary goals of a job interview. The trick is to not allow these positive traits and accomplishments to have undue influence.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek information that confirms or validates existing opinions and preconceived ideas. As a hiring bias, this manifests as a tendency to focus only on those aspects of a person that coincide with pre-established opinions about the candidate’s suitability for a position. This type of bias can be difficult to identify because it is often part of identifying red flags that could lead to a poor fit down the road.

Anchor bias is the tendency to fixate on the first substantial piece of information received about a person – this provides an anchor for perceptions. As a result of this fixation, hiring professionals assess all new information received about the candidate from their anchor’s benchmark instead of considering it objectively. In hiring contexts, this can multiply the negative impact of perceived red flags or exaggerate the benefits of perceived strengths. This type of bias can be difficult to identify because first impressions hold tremendous cultural significance and are often viewed as neutral.

Consensus bias is the tendency to change one’s opinions to be more consistent with the opinions of others when hiring is done in a group, especially when members of a group or hiring committee are at different levels of leadership or stand apart there is a manager-team member dynamic. This type of bias can be difficult to identify because members of hiring committees may feel it is appropriate to defer to those with more seniority or who have more time.

How to combat hiring bias

Several strategies can be used to reduce the influence of each of these types of bias. However, it is important to start with an inescapable truth. The strategies below, especially when combined with pipeline development strategies that lead to an increase in the number of applications and CVs received, require more time, preparation and self-reflection on the part of people involved in the hiring process. Developing effective systems and tools to deal with this extra work – and a sense of willpower derived from a genuine understanding of more inclusive and equitable hiring practices – is essential.

Use a recruitment kit

The training, preparation, and tools described here can be combined into a hiring kit that your organization can use for each type of hiring or each hiring committee. A basic kit can contain:

  • Job advertisement templates for the position to be filled.
  • Best practices for forming hiring committees.
  • Educational materials on types of hiring biases.
  • Educational materials on federal and state hiring laws.
  • A list of skill sets and parallel experiences to look for when reviewing equipment and servicing.
  • A standard set of interview questions.
  • Evaluation rubrics or feedback forms.

Affinity bias

  • Remove personally identifying information such as names and addresses from resumes or applications to conduct blind reviews.
  • Consider using committees of three or more people to conduct hiring and consciously create committees that reflect existing professional, demographic, and psychographic diversity.
  • Rather than hiring for ‘culture fit’, focus on hiring for ‘culture growth’. Identify blind spots and limitations in your culture and use new recruits to add new perspectives, skills and competencies.

The Halo effect

  • Educate your recruiting professionals about the potential for bias due to the halo effect and the types of interview behaviors that may be attributable to the comfort or discomfort of the situation.
  • Consider work sample testingwhere interviewees have the opportunity to briefly follow a current employee, work within the framework they are interviewing for, or resolve a work-related issue that resembles one they might face at work.

Confirmation bias

  • Equip recruiting professionals with a list of parallel skill sets that have historically translated to success in the role. Candidates who look good on paper are often those with direct work experience. There can be a vast universe of skills derived from other industries or non-professional environments that will effectively prepare candidates for success in a role. Surveying your existing workforce to find out what types of non-traditional experiences (inside and outside the workplace) help them succeed in their jobs is a great place to start.
  • Use structured interviews so hiring professionals can’t selectively seek information. Ask the same set of questions in the same order to all candidates. This will allow for clearer comparisons between them.

Anchor bias

  • Use a weighted rubric to score applications, resumes, and interview performance. Determine the weight of each item in your rubric before you begin the candidate review process. For best results, ensure that the job advertisement used to recruit candidates and the rubric used to assess candidates match.

Consensus bias

  • Allow each member of the hiring committee to provide full feedback before sharing their impressions with others. The use of standardized feedback forms and scoring rubrics can facilitate this process.

Download a printable version of this resource below.