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Recruiters bow to bias against women when hiring for conservative bosses, study finds

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Recruitment professionals have condoned bias against women when hiring for conservative chief executives who felt they should put their families before their careers.

New research by three universities on the attitudes of over 600 human resources managers and professionals in Ireland and the US reveals a ripple effect of bias in companies.

It found that HR managers and hiring professionals receive explicit requests from almost 30pc of clients to avoid hiring from certain groups.

Those who took part in the study estimated that those who hire are influenced by their clients’ biases in recruitment processes almost a third of the time.

Participants in the research by Dublin City University, New York University Abu Dhabi and Yale University were presented with a fictitious hiring scenario in which half of them were told that the CEO had conservative views on women.

For example, this might include them believing that women should put their families before their careers.

“Even though 72pc of the HR managers who participated in the study were women, it found that both men and women who endorsed the need to prioritise cultural fit would accommodate the third-party bias of the CEO,” said a DCU spokesperson.

This means they would be less likely to select a female candidate over an equally-qualified male candidate.

Many participants saw it as being acceptable and part of the job, regardless of their own beliefs.

When hiring in the interest of “cultural fit”, they admitted they would take into consideration the preferences of others including the CEO and co-workers.

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“Many hiring professionals see the act of channelling other people’s biases in staff selection as acceptable and part of the job regardless of their own attitudes,” said Professor Janine Bosak, Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at DCU Business School and co-author of the study.

“While HR professionals might be expected to minimise bias in recruitment, our study highlights how a focus on candidate fit with others promotes unfair hiring practices that lead to employment discrimination on this basis of gender.”

Another co-author, Patrick Flood, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at DCU, said the research highlights that the elimination of hiring bias is a far from straightforward task.

“We have found that both men and women recruiters are susceptible to influence from third parties whose status and rank exert undue influence on the hiring process,” he said.

He said it is not sufficient to simply audit the outcomes of the recruitment process.

“We must also audit who is admitted into the hiring process and ensure that bias against minorities does not occur,” he said.

Prof Flood said the presence of independent individuals on boards for all stages of the selection process is critically important, including at the early stages.

Professor Andrea Vial, Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University Abu Dhabi, said it is striking how many hiring professionals report spontaneously making inferences about clients’ discriminatory hiring preferences, even if those clients don’t make an explicit request to discriminate, which would be illegal.

“Our studies demonstrate that they don’t have to,” she said. “This is one reason why bias is so difficult to remove from the hiring process.”

She said HR professionals also reported having experienced third-party bias based on race, ethnicity and age.


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