Combatting Bias in the Hiring Process

Bias in the hiring process causes a number of issues within a business, but possibly the most deleterious effect is that it causes organizations to miss out on great talent and fresh, innovative perspectives. While there are many ways to overcome unconscious bias, this article focuses on the relationship between fair hiring practices and criminal background checks.

The Importance of Background Checks

Background checks are a critical component of safe and responsible hiring policies. Solid, consistent background screening and drug testing provide the following benefits:

  • Increased workplace safety
  • Reduced liability for negligent hiring claims
  • Lowered costs due to absenteeism and injury
  • Enhanced workplace morale as a result of quality hires
  • Higher productivity overall

These benefits are real and measurable, which is why so many organizations across the country are adopting some level of screening into their hiring process. 

There is cause for caution, though, as one unintended consequence of background checks is bias, specifically when it comes to criminal record checks. Sadly, since the criminal justice system has biases, those biases trickle through to background checks and hiring decisions, with the unfortunate result that a swath of the population is often overlooked or unfairly disqualified for positions in the economy.

Strategies to Combat Bias

The good news is that combatting bias is possible with the help of these strategies:

Fair Sourcing

Building an unbiased workforce begins with the candidate pool. If you’re always running the same ads in the same locations, your chances of attracting diverse candidates are low. Be proactive in your efforts to seek diverse talent by doing things like making certain posted job descriptions are free from biased language and looking for talent outside your typical channels. 

Fair Interviewing

A structured interview process that employs as much objectivity as possible will eliminate unintentional subjective bias. Make sure interviews are conducted by a diverse committee so that different views are reflected in the process. 

Fair Screening

The following practices can help you eliminate bias from your background check practices:

  • Develop a set of rules for adjudicating screening reports and apply those rules consistently across all applicants. Rules are best set to be position-specific to avoid disqualifying applicants for issues that are not relevant to the position.
  • Filter reports so you don’t see irrelevant or old information that might still create a bias.
  • Eliminate demographic filtering entirely. 
  • Comply with “ban the box” laws that discriminate against folks with a criminal record regardless of the nature of that record. 

Final Thoughts

HR managers and business owners have a wonderful opportunity to fill their workplaces with remarkable people from all walks of life, but this result will only come if sought after deliberately and proactively. Begin with the end in mind by crafting hiring policies around the goal of combatting bias. 


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