Researchers reveal new ways to strip unconscious bias from the job market

Stock image of men and women seated in a line waiting to be interviewed.
Recruit Smarter, a Victorian State government research program, found simple strategies can make a big difference when it comes to ensuring a fairer playing field when people are jostling for jobs. Image: Getty Images

Changing language in job advertisements and de-identifying CVs during recruitment can significantly boost a person’s prospects of landing a job by overcoming unconscious bias, new University of Melbourne research shows.

Removing country of birth from individuals’ CVs improved overseas-born job seekers’ chances of being shortlisted by eight per cent, in a randomised controlled trial of 311 applicants.

While one in three Australians was born overseas, and half of us have at least one parent born overseas, human rights advocates say inequality in the workplace is rife. Employees from ethnically and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with disabilities, older job seekers, and those from minority religious faiths report bias and discrimination when job hunting.

Experimental research suggests employees from non-Caucasian backgrounds must submit up to 68 per cent more job applications to get the same number of offers as counterparts with an Anglo-Saxon background.

Recruit Smarter, a Victorian State government research program undertaken by a team of researchers, found simple strategies can make a big difference when it comes to ensuring a fairer playing field when people are jostling for jobs.

University of Melbourne Associate Lecturer in the School of Psychological Sciences and lead author Michelle Stratemeyer said the two-year Recruit Smarter research program, implemented in real workplaces, was designed to improve workplace recruitment by removing potentially biasing information.

“We trialled ways to manage unconscious bias and mitigate its impact on hiring decisions,” Ms Stratemeyer said.

Staff were also trained how to spot and avoid the effects of unconscious bias in workplace decision making in the program also involving Dr Victor Sojo Monzon and Dr Melissa Wheeler from the University’s Faculty of Business and Economics and Professor Robert Wood, formerly at UNSW and now with the University of Technology Sydney.

“In another trial, candidates from lower socio-economic areas were 9.4 per cent more likely to be offered a job when their home suburb was not disclosed,” Ms Stratemeyer said.

Changes are not difficult to implement, and previous research has shown that gender and ethnic diversity in organisations can result in outperforming competitors by between 15-35 per cent, she said.

“The take-home message is clear: bias can hinder effective and inclusive recruitment and selection. Fortunately, we can use different strategies that are simple to implement and improve our hiring processes to reduce or eliminate the negative effects,” Ms Stratemeyer said.

The Recruit Smarter program was funded by the Victorian State Government.