08/04/2019 10:16 AM IST

Bias In The Hiring Process In Indian Engineering Workplaces

While companies have woken up to the need for gender parity, unconscious biases can still be a problem.

metamorworks via Getty Images

Every organization has a defined set of guidelines to hire people. These guidelines are laid down in order to ensure that the hiring process is just, neutral and unprejudiced. But it has been noticed that unconscious or unintended bias is an inescapable and inevitable part of any hiring process. Unintended bias refers to the idea that a person’s sociocultural experiences influence their behaviour, thinking, and decision-making without them realizing it. This subconscious attitude impacts how people approach various situations and other people. 

These biases are not necessarily always intentional and destructive. But when it comes to organizational processes like hiring and promotion, these can lead to negative outcomes for a certain set of people, mostly women and minorities. They can be a hindrance in an organization’s path to become truly diverse and inclusive. These biases, if not addressed on time, can shape a company or industry’s norms and culture.

Unfortunately, this problem is pervasive and is entrenched in every industry. In its report, ‘Walking the Tightrope’, Society of Women Engineers (SWE) talk about the bias that exists in the Indian engineering workplaces. SWE and the Center for WorkLife Law (WLL) surveyed 693 engineers in India (423 women, 270 men) to examine their working experiences. The objective was to know the types of biases that are playing out in engineering workplaces in India and to understand how they are impacting outcomes in those workplaces.

The survey revealed that almost 50% of the engineers reported bias in their companies’ hiring systems.  Surprisingly, more men than women reported hiring bias—54% of men versus 45% of women reported bias in their hiring processes.

These figures are comparable to the bias reported by women in the U.S. study (see graph). Data from the focus groups and survey points to two major explanations for bias: women are facing bias based on their gender, and men are facing bias based on their region of origin or the state they are from.

Hiring bias as a percentage of the workforce.

The hiring scale comprised questions about how respondents feel about the fairness of the hiring process at their company and what the company is looking for when they hire new employees. 

Given below is some additional data that shows the existence of bias in the hiring process in the Indian engineering workplaces. 

  • In India, over 31% of engineering and technology degrees awarded were earned by women (Source: All India Survey on Higher Education 2017-2018), but, as per an article published in The Hindu, only 12.7% of working engineers in India are women.
  • As per the article published in The Hindu, researchers indicate that the unemployment rate for women engineers in India is about 40%. In some regions of India, the unemployment rate for women with engineering degrees is about five times higher than that of men (Source: The persistence of traditional gender roles in the information technology sector: A study of female engineers in India, R. Patel & M.J.C. Parmentier (2005)).
  • A recent survey by Belong, a recruitment company/a SaaS company in the talent acquisition and candidate experience space, on the gender gap in the tech industry in India found that women take longer to transition into managerial positions than men/progress to high-level management and leadership roles than men. The ratio is 8:6 years.
  • With its report, SWE wants to highlight the bigger problem of women’s underrepresentation in the field of technology. The data clearly indicates that women are graduating with engineering degrees (though that trend also seems to be leveling off), but they are still not well represented in the profession. 

Recommendations to address bias in the hiring process

As diversity is part of the hiring initiative in several organizations, it is important to limit the effects of unconscious bias in order to make this a reality. As mentioned earlier, unconscious bias is an unavoidable part of any hiring process but there are ways to reduce its impact on the hiring decisions. SWE lists some easy actions to minimize the amount of bias affecting the decision-making in hiring processes.

  1. Decide what is important for the position, and rate every resume on the same criteria.
  2. Develop an interview protocol, and follow it for every candidate.  
  3. Assemble a diverse candidate pool for available positions, and be clear that you are considering people from a variety of backgrounds. If you are not getting the candidates you are hoping for, try checking your job advertisements with a writing enhancement tool like Textio 9 to ensure that you are using inclusive language.
  4. Appoint people in the hiring process to spot bias and make sure they are equipped with the tools to assess candidates fairly.

To sum up, stick to the job requirements. Every organization knows that biases do exist. Try to filter out personal information and non job-related factors. This will help in making decisions based on a candidate’s ability to perform the job.