Blog Img

International Women's Day #BreakTheBias: 6 Ways to Eliminate Gender Bias from the Recruitment Process

Back to Blogs

Tuesday 8th March marks International Women’s Day. For 2022 the campaign is focusing on how we can #BreakTheBias.

The path to women's equality has been long and challenging, and in more recent years the open and clear communication of advocating and companies being champions of change has been a major trend in accelerating women’s equality. The world now expects inclusivity. As expectations rise and information spreads faster and wider than ever before, organisations face unprecedented scrutiny from candidates, clients, communities, investors and the media in terms of their support and treatment of women.

Opus People Solutions is a recruitment agency, and our aim is to help people find a job. As a recruitment agency we have a commitment for equality, diversity and inclusion, and with that we have to lead by example. This blog explores how we can #BreakTheBias when it concerns recruiting women in the workplace. There is still a continuing need worldwide for more progressive mindsets and inclusive behaviours to be forged, both inside and outside the workplace.

Understanding Bias

By now, most people are familiar with the concept of bias. Bias is a systemic prejudice for, or against something or someone, based on things like stereotypes. Biases can adversely impact our judgment, causing us to make non-fact-based decisions in favour of one person or group to the detriment of others.

People can have biases that are either conscious, meaning that they are aware of their own prejudices, or unconscious, meaning that they are not aware of them. There are endless types of biases, for example, gender, race, age, and ability. We all learn and absorb them from our environments starting at an early age, depending on the context in which we were raised. Just think about your own upbringing and life experiences, and how they have influenced how you look at the world.

While conscious bias or discrimination is generally regarded as a bad thing and is often even illegal, it can often be easy to recognize and to address. Unconscious bias, on the other hand, is more pernicious, for many reasons.

First, because it is, by definition, unconscious, the individual with the unconscious bias – and remember, this is all of us - is largely unaware of it. Therefore, removing or reducing that bias is very difficult to do.

Second, unconscious biases can be difficult to spot with an untrained eye. They are often cloaked in things like ‘culture fit’ or ‘experience’ or ‘low-risk’. Because of this, data analysis is often required to identify where these biases are at play. 

In recruitment, the oft-relied on 'fit’-based decisions result in the selection of candidates who are similar in irrelevant ways to the hiring manager, and the rejection of those with personal characteristics that are unfamiliar. This means that we tend to hire people whom we like. And typically, who are like us.  And when most hiring managers are men, that results in fewer women being selected.

According to Lazlo Bock, former CPO of Google, “Too many people see hiring as an instinct art form, honed by years of their own experience: when asked, three-fourths of people involved in the interview process at elite law, banking, and consulting firms admitted to making hiring decisions based on their gut.”

When these biases are systematically (albeit unintentionally) embedded into our processes, they weaken talent management efforts and deal a fatal blow to diversity, equity and inclusion aspirations. Therefore, de-biasing people process helps to improve organisational decision-making, resulting in better business outcomes and increased workplace equality.

6 Ways to Eliminate Gender Bias from the Recruitment Process

1 - Implement a gender-neutral recruitment process through language

The use of language, research has found, can unintentionally reflect stereotypical gender roles.[1]

An area of debate and consideration for any organisation is how the use of language and linguistic forms for advertisement of vacancies and roles can shape certain perceptions. Without realising it, often people use gender-coded language due to the way we have been brought up in a gender-biased society. With different societal expectations for both men and women, this can seep into language.

When drafting up your job boards and advertisements, examine the language you use such as he/him and she/her and avoid gendered job titles such as Policeman or Stewardess; begin best practice to use gender-neutral job titles such as firefighter instead. It is also key to choose phrasing to describe behaviours instead of phrases that point to the person who would be considered for the role, as this could lead to bias interpretations. This not only helps with gender bias but also is inclusive for those who are gender-fluid or non-binary.

The UK government is at the forefront of this and is already set to begin trailing gender-neutral language in apprenticeship advertisement, in the hopes to increase diversity amongst apprenticeship programmes.[2]

2 - Be aware of unconscious bias in the interview process

Adding structure to an interview by having a series of standardised questions that are used uniformly across the whole process, makes it easier for the interviewer to compare each candidate applying for the job fairly. These questions can include some icebreakers and easier questions and any technical questions relevant to the role. Having guidelines to record and interpret responses during an interview is imperative.

It’s also a good idea to identify the preferred answer to each question you are asking before you conduct the first interview, so you know when you have found that perfect candidate.

3 - Use a diverse interview panel

Depending on the type of interview process, you may be able to elect a gender diverse interview panel which can reduce the risk of unconscious gender bias. If possible, it is a good idea to extend this strategy to have a fair mix of cultural diversity and age range when conducting a series of interviews.

4 - Support women and educate

Supporting women into more senior roles and diversifying the board is vital. Huge leading companies like Accenture, Barclays and KPMG all have clearly defined set gender target broken into business lines and functions. These follow in line with deadlines so they can measure themselves against their own targets. They are constantly ensuring they actively encourage women to progress and applying for promotions where possible.

We can also educate our own employees about their own unconscious biases. It is a simple step we can take that will reach everyone and help people understand their own biases and help work towards eliminating them.

5 - Equal introduction of flexible working and Parental leave

Following COVID-19, we have found working from home a very new and permanent part of our lives. Many successful companies have therefore introduced new flexible working schemes and new parental leave benefits for employees. Not only does this increase employee retention it can also shorten the gap and help address underlying discrimination. Previously women were more likely to care for home life and children, meaning they may have missed out on promotions over men who were visually seen in the office. By closing this gap and allowing time for both parents to care for their families, both are given the same opportunities.

Both flexible working and parental leave mean more time working away from the office, but it isn’t about where you work it's all about the work you do! By assessing employee’s performance through achievements and promoting through performance reward systems in opposed to time recognised in the office. Employees will not only feel more valued, motivated, and recognised for their achievements, but this too will help in breaking down gender bias particularly for returning to work mothers.

6 - Express your commitment to equality and diversity

Candidates want to know they'll be welcome in your culture before they make the effort to apply. A simple statement toward the end of your job description lets candidates know that you intend to make the workplace a friendly one.

[1] Job advertisements that use masculine wording are less appealing to women. Danielle Gaucher , Justin Friesenand Aaron C. Kay ,

[2] Gender-neutral language in apprenticeships. Hollie Ryan.