HR Alert: Let’s Care About Identifying Systemic Bias in Hiring

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One thing every company has in common is hiring new employees. This process can be a common or rare occurrence. Either way, it’s always an extremely important part of growing your business.

New hires can bring with them new skills, ideas, and problem-solving methods. With all these benefits that come from hiring new employees, there also are risks including inadvertently allowing systemic bias to affect hiring decisions. This can potentially result in liability for the company.

In the case of hiring, systemic bias has been defined as an inherent tendency for Caucasian and male applicants to be selected at a higher rate than minority and female applicants. This difference in selection could be the result of implicit bias.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “implicit bias is a form of bias that occurs automatically and unintentionally, that nevertheless affects judgments, decisions, and behaviors.” The key takeaway from this definition is that implicit bias is not intentional and cannot be turned on or off. This makes it particularly troublesome in the hiring process.

Interestingly, there are several studies looking at how personal information provided on resumes affects the likelihood of being contacted, or, in other words, how bias can affect hiring decisions.


Over the last few years, it’s become more and more common for individuals to include their pronouns when meeting new people, creating nametags, or applying for jobs. We see pronouns listed on LinkedIn all the time! There has been new research to suggest that the inclusion of pronouns on an application can negatively affect the likelihood of an individual getting an interview invitation.

One study sent out two resumes to 180 job postings, these resumes were identical using the gender ambiguous name of Taylor Williams except the test resume included “they/them” pronouns and the control resume did not.

Even though most employers were Equal Opportunity Employers, the “they/them” resume received less interest than the control. In fact, the disparity was so significant that the resume with pronouns received eight percent less employer interest than the traditional resume.


At first you might wonder how someone’s name can influence an employer’s interest in the candidate. However, names can be triggers for implicit bias. When reading an applicant’s name, an employer can infer their race and gender.

One 20-year-old study looked at whether the names Emily and Greg were deemed “more employable” than Lakisha and Jamal. This study found that “white names” receive 50% more callbacks for interviews. Even Equal Opportunity Employers were found to discriminate the same as other employers.

Looking at a more recent 2021 study shows a similar result. It’s important to note that this study is not peer-reviewed, but it’s large and looks at large U.S. employers. As part of the study, over 83,000 fake applications were generated, some with “distinctively black names” and others with racially ambiguous names. The results showed that having a “black name” reduced the probability of employer contact by 2.1% relative to “white names.”

These studies looking at pronouns and names demonstrate that even Equal Opportunity Employers aren’t free from implicit bias which then affects hiring decisions. So what’s an employer to do?

We’ve got some suggestions for you. There are things that employers can do to prevent bias in the hiring process such as:

  • Training human resource managers and, in fact, all employees on Equal Employment Opportunity laws
  • Fostering an inclusive workplace culture
  • Conducting self-analyses to determine whether their hiring practices are avoiding systemic bias and swiftly dealing with any identified concerns
  • Creating job qualification standards which are consistently applied to all candidates
  • Having selection criteria that are relevant to the job. For instance, a job that doesn’t need a worker to have a bachelor’s degree should not require it
  • Sharing promotion criteria and job openings with all eligible employees
  • Taking care when using outside recruiting agencies to ensure they’re not searching for candidates based on race

As shown by these studies, implicit bias continues to challenge employers – even those with the best intentions. While businesses may think that turning towards AI is a potential solution, the EEOC warns that resumé scanners and programs that evaluate a candidate’s facial expressions and speech patterns can perpetuate bias or create discrimination.

Employers need to take a proactive approach to dealing with bias in the hiring process. This provides a fair and equitable chance for all applicants, and it helps reduce the risk of potential lawsuits.

At The Coppola Firm, we’re well versed in employment law and are here to help. Please reach out to us at or give us a call at 716.839.9700 with any questions.


Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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