Cultural bias at work

Should companies move away from cultural bias during the recruitment process?

Cultural Bias, what it means

We all, whether we realise it or not, are subject to or hold unconscious social bias. Biases play a part of human nature and human interaction, in principle, biases are there to keep us safe, when we participate in bias on a natural level, we are testing how safe situations are. However, when biases are used to compare or are used as fact, they become diminishing and damaging to inter-cultural interactions and can potentially lead to stereotyping and discrimination. There are negative scenarios in every situation, but these can be especially damaging within a working environment.

Cultural bias is defined in the Collins dictionary in two halves.

Cultural, is defined as a particular society with regards to its ideas, customs, and art. Bias, is defined as the inclination to prefer and favour one person (and/or thing) to another.

When together cultural bias can be defined as the occurrence of judging an individual or group of individuals by standards fundamental to one’s own culture and the exclusion of events from a particular perspective.

Cultural bias can be separated into categories and can include but are not limited to; age, cultural beliefs, gender, ethnicity, religion etc.

Cultural bias in recruitment can form prejudice and discriminatory hiring decisions against one person or a group of people. Not only do the potential candidates suffer within the hiring process, missing job opportunities, the business also suffers with the loss of diverse skill sets and knowledge, hindering the business.

How this affects Recruitment

The majority of managers see recruitment as a process and forget it is all about people. People do not fit into boxes, therefore attempting to get people to fit into a rigid job description will be challenging to say the least, this is because we all have our own unique skills and personalities. Therefore, managers and key personnel need to treat the recruitment process as a flexible model with many variables to get the most out of the potential new hire.

Examples of cultural bias within the recruitment and hiring processes include:

  1. Gender bias – This can stem from beliefs about gender roles and stereotypes (generally culturally reinforced) an example of this is nursing, that tends to be seen as a female profession, whereas construction is typically viewed as male. When conducting an interview an individual may unconsciously lean towards a potential candidate who matches the gender, they associate with the role they are hiring for, rather than the skills and attributes of the candidate. The individuals may also give a preference for candidates of the same gender, as it is usually easier to relate to people of the same gender due to shared life experiences and/or shared interests.
  2. Age bias – Can stem from beliefs about age and stereotypes, two examples of this can be negative views on both the older and younger generation; with the older generation the recruiter could view them as having poor IT skills, whereas in the younger generation they could view the candidate as not having enough experience for the job role. In some cases, this may be correct however not in others, and the Deleted: , candidate should be given the chance to show their skillset, knowledge, and determination, no matter their age.
  3. Affinity bias – can be common in recruitment and can result in unconscious racism and ageism. Recruiters can feel a natural pull towards candidates they feel they have something in common with. Affinity bias causes emphasis to be placed on qualities that are not substantial or relevant to the hiring decision.
  4. The contrast effect can come into play during the CV selection stage of the recruitment process. It occurs when an individual takes two or more similar things and compare them to one another instead of judging them separately on their own merits. The role of the recruiter is to find people who can adapt to a given role, not those with a flawless CV.
  5. Conformity bias commonly occurs within interview panels. When the majority of interviewers feel a certain way about a candidate, one of them may feel pressured to agree, even if their original or real opinion was different. This can cause some of the best talent/ fits for the job to be overlooked, that individual may have spotted something the others did not.

Any bias can affect the recruitment process and hiring the new candidate, it can harm the business in different ways, to make a difference the focus needs to change.

Change the focus

One way to do this is through job crafting. Job crafting is a flexible process, it is not a ridged job description, it is where the employees can make effective changes to their job designs/descriptions to result in positive outcomes. Fulfilling the job demands and resources in a customisable way that fits their individual needs, passions, motives and strengths. In order to make job crafting a success it needs to be approved, embraced and supported by everyone within the business. This technique utilises the skills and attributes the candidate and/or employee offers to support and grow the business, rather than a job description that has a set of skills and tasks that need to be completed.

How cultural bias can impact the workplace

Your organisational culture will demonstrate to what extent cultural bias has on the individuals and teams. As we know, an organisational culture is ever evolving and the people in the business have a direct influence and impact on this.

Therefore, if you believe your culture is not where it needs to be or should be, you perhaps want to look within and a starting place may be your teams cultural bias, it could also present itself as an underperforming team or set of individuals, a good exercise is to ask yourself and others to describe the culture in your business. Note: alarm bells should ring if you hear ‘this is how we have always done things around here, or there is no need for change. These statements in some situations are more than okay, however it can be damaging to business growth if individuals aren’t willing to look outside the box and innovate where required. It is important to link organisational culture and cultural bias together as it can present conflict internally.

Examples such as discrimination within the business, around any protected characteristics  processes such as promotion etc. It can also cause exclusivity, lower levels of cooperation, low productivity and bullying within the workplace. When you only hire people like yourself, with the same background, personality, mentality, skillset, and drive, you only get the same or comparable results when it comes to the work being produced. You need difference within the business in order for different strengths and personalities to be utilised for the best interests of the business.

Therefore, we should ask ourselves, how can we as individuals, teams and businesses take steps to remove and / or reduce cultural bias within the workplace and more specifically during the recruitment process.

How to overcome cultural bias in the workplace

There are a few ways in which businesses can overcome cultural bias within the workplace, 

  1. Review the hiring process itself, it may help to remove names and pictures from resumes and curriculum vitaes, instead look at the documentation itself, look at the skills or personality traits the job requires. Another way in which this can be aided is a multi-interview process or using diverse interview panels.
  2. Carry out unconscious bias tests on managers and key hiring personnel to create awareness of any bias they unconsciously have, after all we all have them to some extent. This can be a really positive step forward from the organisation, as it highlights any bias towards a protected characteristic, enabling the individual to understand how and why they think and feel in a particular way. If correctly done the unconscious bias tests are only positive. However, it has been known that they can be seen as having a ‘weakness’ and as a result can be singled out if the views are strong in one particular way from other individuals. The success of unconscious bias tests comes from leadership and management throughout the business, it forms part of the culture and an expectation of giving everyone a fair chance, whether that’s during recruitment, promotion, performance, salary increases, everyone has a level playing field.
  3. Another way in which cultural bias can be removed is to build in personality profiling (psychometric profiling) as part of the recruitment process, to compare an individual’s personality, behavioral style and/or preferences with the behavioral/personality requirements of the role in question. This provides insights into the person and should be discussed with them to see what the candidate thinks. The danger here comes when businesses take the document as the whole picture and use it to make the decision, whereas it should infact guide conversations and questioning to build a better understanding of the candidate and their suitability to the role.


There are a large number of benefits from removing or reducing cultural bias from the workplace and recruitment process and these include reducing conflict, reducing discrimination and bullying. It can also increase productivity and performance of your employees. Allowing further and faster growth of the business.

Having diverse cultural perspectives can drive innovation and inspire creativity, enable a diverse skill base that can allow a business to offer a broader and more adaptable range of products and/or services.

If you would like to find out more about cultural bias in the workplace, or using Insights discovery profiling to assist your recruitment process, you can reach the team on 01223 641 017 or