Talent Leadership

Unconscious Bias in Hiring: A Deep Dive into Top-of-the-Funnel Disparities

Brandice Payne | Author

Brandice Payne

Senior Manager, Content & Customer Marketing

Posted on

January 16, 2024

Unconscious biases are mental reactions that make people act in a certain way that reinforces stereotypes. These actions appear even when the conscious mind would never approve of that kind of behavior. 

Unfortunately, unconscious biases have an ugly relative known as affinity bias, which explains the tendency for people to gravitate toward individuals who look, act, and think in ways similar to their own. In recruiting, these hiring biases lead to preferences in candidates, usually under the guise of “culture fit.”

These preferences include choosing candidates with non-ethnic sounding names, hiring based on alma mater or location, and picking male candidates over female ones—even when they have the same qualifications or skills. These unconscious hiring biases lead organizations to a lack of diversity, which saps innovation, stagnates performance, and lowers profit. 

Modern job seekers demand more diverse workplaces, with upwards of 56% of adults saying a focus on diversity in the workplace is a good thing. Diverse work environments go beyond demographics and include gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and disability status. 

Diverse teams have better problem-solving skills, are more innovative, and engage in more effective decision-making. If creating diverse teams is a priority for you, it starts with gauging your current performance and comparing your company’s DEI standing with the rest of your industry. 

Gem’s 2023 recruiting benchmarks report, based on data from over 27 million applicants, reveals some interesting results about the disparities still at play in the workplace. Let’s look at what the statistics show and discuss some tips on mitigating implicit biases during the hiring process.

Top-of-the-Funnel Problems

The top of the funnel is where several types of unconscious biases first appear during the recruiting process. Hiring teams can fall victim to gender biases or unconsciously filter out candidates with ethnic-sounding names, which is one drawback to traditional job applications and resume review processes. 

Gem’s recruiting benchmarks report found a couple of top-of-the-funnel disparities worth examining.

  • Gender-related disparities: Male candidates are 1.5 times more likely to enter the initial selection process than qualified female candidates. However, on a positive note, later in the process, female candidates have higher acceptance rates. 

  • Ethnicity-based disparities: AAPI and American/Alaskan Natives have the lowest rates of receiving initial interviews, while Hispanic/LatinX candidates had the highest pre-onsite passthrough rates at 29%, outweighing both White and Black applicants. 

Looking at this data, Sarah George, DEI Lead at Hudson RPO suggests that there are several potential causes of these trends, including job ads that are (unintentionally) discouraging underrepresented talent from applying, careers pages and other employer branding materials that are not written with inclusive language, and unconscious biases that may be impacting hiring managers’ decisions.

Despite the improvement in hiring Black/African-American individuals, other underrepresented groups of people, such as American/Alaskan Natives, struggle to land initial interviews. 

The disparities we see at the top of the funnel make it more difficult for these underrepresented groups to make it through to later rounds of the recruitment process. As we begin 2024, a focus on blind hiring practices can help eliminate some of these challenges. 

Disparity in Outreach

Qualified candidates face disparities in outreach, with male conformity bias coming into play. Gem’s 2023 recruiting benchmarks report shows that male candidates receive 2.4x more outreach messages than female candidates. 

The industry where diverse candidates face the most significant challenges is engineering, where male candidates are upwards of 4x more likely to receive outreach. Male candidates also receive higher outreach rates in data science, sales, research and development, finance, and design roles. These results are despite nearly identical open rates between male and female candidates. 

Industries with the least diverse teams include engineering management, which is 3.3x more likely to have a male occupying the role instead of a female. 

Hiring teams in these industries are likely relying on mental shortcuts that neglect candidates from underrepresented groups, such as sourcing from a familiar candidate pool, like a specific university, LinkedIn group, or other homogeneous networks. 

Variations in Passthrough Rates by Gender and Ethnicity

Passthrough rates are how hiring managers measure conversion rates and understand the overall health of the recruitment funnel. Generally, measuring passthrough rates starts with sourcing talent and ends with a hiring decision and a signed offer, though the process can vary depending on the role and organization. 

 To help streamline the data, Gem compiles information into the top five pipeline stages, including application creation, pre-onsite job interviews, on-site interviews, offer extended, and offer accepted. Here’s a look at what Gem found for 2023:

  • Gender-based contrasts: across the board, passthrough rates during the first few steps of the hiring process are down compared with last year. Female candidates experience a 2% lower passthrough rate than male applicants during the screening stage.

Female applicants also have a 1% lower passthrough rate during the on-site stage versus male candidates. However, women receive higher offer extended rates (41% vs. 35%), offer accepted rates (83% vs. 81%), and fewer median days to hire (34 vs. 38). 

The higher rates female candidates experience later in the hiring process could point to effective hiring initiatives at later stages. 

  • Ethnicity-based contrasts: Like gender-based contrasts, ethnicity-based data shows another across-the-board passthrough rate percentage drop year-over-year. Perhaps surprising is that Hispanic/LatinX job seekers have the highest overall passthrough rate of any ethnicity at 29%. 

On the other hand, AAPI and American/Alaskan Natives have the lowest passthrough rates at 24% and 25%, respectively. Additionally, these underrepresented individuals have the longest time-to-hire rates at 34 and 43 days, respectively. 

Also, it’s worth noting that Black talent experiences the fewest days to hire at 15 on average. These results indicate that hiring practices may be becoming more inclusive in many organizations.  

Actionable Tips for Enhancing Diversity

Gem’s benchmark report gives a framework for organizations to take actionable steps to create a more diverse workforce. These include:

  • Creating awareness: limiting unconscious bias means hiring managers and hiring teams should attend regular training, workshops, webinars, and conferences. This continued learning helps develop the competencies needed to engage in diversity hiring. 

  • Evaluate current job descriptions: comb through current job descriptions to remove non-inclusive language and unnecessary skill set requirements.

  • Utilize blind resumes: introduce methods like removing names from CVs to reduce gender and ethnicity biases. Focus on previous work samples instead of superficial factors.

  • Deploy diverse hiring panels: ensure representation in interview panels to provide varied perspectives. Also, remove potentially discriminatory or illegal interview questions from the hiring process. 

  • Analyze metrics and practice accountability: track diversity metrics and hold teams accountable toward making improvements. 

  • Focus on the candidate experience: engaging with candidates from diverse backgrounds even before job openings are available keeps your organization top of mind. Plus, these experiences can lead to higher retention rates. 

Diversifying your organization is a long game, requiring several small positive steps to move the needle in the right direction. Gem’s all-in-one diversity hiring software can help you reach your goals by supporting your technology needs to make your hiring process more inclusive. 

Mitigate Biases in Hiring with Gem

Organizations with diverse workforces are in a better position to meet the demands of modern business. They see higher levels of innovation, stronger team cohesion, and produce more profit. 

While Gem’s 2023 benchmark points to some successes, it also points to some areas where companies are falling short. As 2024 begins, it’s imperative that hiring and recruitment leaders evaluate and refine their hiring processes to reduce and eliminate unconscious biases. 

Make diversifying your hiring process easier by investing in a centralized tool with the features you need to reach your goals. Request a demo of Gem’s platform to see how our all-in-one software can elevate the diversity of your organization.


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