What is Affinity Bias and How to Avoid It?

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Recent research conducted by the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, has outlined the dangers of hiring people who are similar to yourself (also known as affinity bias). So let’s get to it, why do you need to stop hiring people who are just like you?

Hire Different People

“When recruiting, we tend to be drawn to people who are like us,” says Gillian Arnold, Chair of BCSWomen. “We need to be aware of this in order to ensure that we have a profession that is diverse.”

The Problems of Affinity Bias

This particular study highlights the damage this practice can do to gender equality in the work place. But it goes much further than that. Many studies have shown that making sure the candidate is the right cultural fit for the company is often just as important as making sure they possess the skills needed to perform the role. And that makes sense – no-one wants to be stuck working with someone they don’t get on with.

But too often, in the high-pressured environment of a short interview, interviewers only seem to be drawn to the qualities that they most recognise – their own. That can mean someone with the same personal interests, cultural background, education or skills as themselves.

From a practical standpoint, there is one big problem with this – the company already has someone with your skills. Why do you need a carbon copy? If you’re a creative person, then perhaps your next hire should be someone with excellent organisational skills that will complement, rather than duplicate your own.

Affinity Bias Creates a Negative Exclusive Environment

Hiring people who remind you of yourself has another, far more insidious side effect. It creates an exclusive, forbidding atmosphere with minimal diversity. For example, if the chief hiring person is a man who likes to banter, then the office soon becomes very male-dominated. Or if the boss is a woman, it can become a very feminine environment. If the boss went to a highly-regarded university, then the people they hire are also likely to be red-brick-educated. A young boss might be reluctant to hire older people. An older boss might not want to take a risk on young potential employees.

No-one does it on purpose. But interviews only give you a short time to get to know a candidate, and your gut instinct becomes an important deciding factor. We’re all essentially ego-centric creatures, and tend to immediately value in others reflections of objectively our own best qualities. You need to learn to switch that off in an interview if you want to create an inclusive work environment.

Get to Know People

Once a company has a certain number of a particular type of person, then you’re less likely to even get applications from anyone who doesn’t fit that profile. Many studies indicate that there are few women coming into IT purely because there are few women currently in IT, and the atmosphere has become one that is forbidding to women. You could be turning away valuable potential employees without even realising you’re doing it.

So when you’re hiring, remember to keep in mind the make-up of the entire company. Think about what the company needs and responds to, not just what qualities you respond to. And remember that a diversity of experience, skills and background makes for the most productive and inspiring work environment.

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