Mathias Linnemann: Saying goodbye to bias in recruitment

Despite great improvements in recent years, inequality remains all too prevalent in the workplace and can present itself in many forms — especially during the recruitment process. Hiring managers may consider themselves open-minded, but much of their decision making is subject to subconscious bias. This hinders businesses from being able to find the best talent for the right jobs.

Fortunately, advancements in technology mean we can reduce the use of unconscious bias for businesses by implementing algorithm-based recruitment platforms which pair the most suitable candidates, based on skills and experience, to the correct jobs.

The state of recruitment & employment

According to the Open University, 91 per cent of UK businesses have struggled to find workers with the right skills over the past year. As a result, many organisations have been forced to give up on finding the right talent and hire at a lower level than intended or, at a last resort, leave the role vacant. These findings scream ‘talent shortage’. But there’s another side to the story.

While the traditional workforce is suffering from talent scarcity, the freelance workforce is growing rapidly. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of freelancers increased by 43 per cent with 2 million people now freelancing in the UK, according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE). These freelancers are generally highly skilled, have several years of experience, and represent a wide range of skill-sets. They are not attracted to the traditional nine-five, but seek flexibility and want to work on their own terms.

For many organisations retainment-thinking is no longer sustainable due to the average tenures decreasing, according to Deloitte half of millennials will leave their employer company within two years. This is a costly affair, when taking into account increased recruitment fees, inflated salaries, and training for workers hired at a lower level than intended. Not only is this approach unsustainable and costly, but ultimately can leave all parties dissatisfied.

Instead, organisations should adapt to the changes in the labour force. The freelance workforce represents a readily available, growing, and highly skilled pool of people and bring in advantages, such as added flexibility, specialised skills, and innovation, which is crucial in today’s rapidly changing world.

The real hurdle for organisations is not the talent shortage in the traditional workforce because this can be solved. Rather, it is their own resistance to adapt to the growing demands of labour market changes. While the recruitment industry has its challenges, a shortage of talent isn’t one of them. So why do some firms — tech businesses in particular — find it so difficult to fill positions? The answer may be bias…

Eliminating bias

No one wants to admit that they are biased, especially when it comes to making a decision as important as offering someone a job. While the majority of us agree that bias is bad, and think we’re not biased, the problem is with unconscious bias. The most important thing for hiring managers to do is to be able to spot the two different types of bias before it becomes an issue. Conscious biases of course mean that businesses are aware of their biases, and that allows them to act upon it. Unconscious biases comprise subconscious patterns of thinking, and are a lot harder to avoid because we all have them to one extent or another.

Unfortunately, unconscious bias is a part of human nature and are too often inferred into the recruitment process. Without even meaning to, we gravitate towards people that are similar to ourselves, and have a tendency to hire according to that.

But shouldn’t recruitment be about finding the very best person for the job — no matter the age, gender, location, education or race?

The future of recruitment is digital

Algorithms are great for removing recruitment biases, because they don’t take into account variables such as age, name, race, or gender. Algorithms only look at people’s competencies to find the right person for the particular job. In that sense, biases are not even an option.

Much of the recruitment industry still operates in an analogue way, which is time consuming, ineffective, and packed with possibilities for injecting biases. Many recruitment agencies still scroll manually through a database to search for the best candidate.

Advanced algorithms (AI, essentially) are now being used by hiring platforms to find the ideal match in a matter of seconds. Machine learning is the next big step in recruitment. It can be reached by getting sufficient amounts of data to inform the algorithms. Once achieved, it can offer personalised job suggestions and make success predictions.

These technological solutions offer hiring managers an unbiased pool of the most eligible candidates for the job. However, in the end it’s still up to the hiring manager to choose whom they believe will best conduct the job and represent the company. In that way, the hiring manager can still project his or her own bias when choosing the final candidate.

One way to solve this problem, which we believe will become more widely used, would be to implement blind recruitment in every step of the process. This would help eliminate biases and as a result we would see more diversity in the workforce, which helps businesses overall.

To get a head start in making sure you’re accessing the best talent for the right job, here’s our top 4 tips you need to consider:

  • Be open-minded to harnessing tech solutions: recruitment platforms powered by algorithms, AI and Machine learning will help you find the right match
  • Rethink how you fish for talent: moving away from the traditional talent pool will open you up to a freelancing workforce that can bring more value to your business
  • Create a culture that is agile
  • At the very least, anonymise and randomise CVs so you are less likely to fall victim to subconscious bias





Mathias Linnemann is the co-founder of Worksome, an online platform that matches companies with on site freelancers and contractors using new technology. Before founding Worksome, Linnemann worked as Industry Manager at Google for six years with the responsibility of handling Google's clients' digital transformations. He has a Master of Science in Innovation & Business Development from Tsinghua University in Beijing and from Copenhagen Business School.