Blind Hiring Increases Diversity in Business

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

The hiring process is notoriously unfair. It disadvantages most candidates and stunts the growth of businesses. With diversity programmes failing, companies are turning to software tools to ensure fair hiring practices.

Discrimination: Yesterday and Today

When you hear a violin solo over the radio, can you tell if the musician is a man or a woman?

I’m guessing that’s a “no”.

This is precisely the reasoning behind the “blind hiring” policies adopted by the most popular orchestras in the US. 

Prior to 1970, female musicians made up a pitiful 5% of the players in the top five US orchestras. When confronted with this statistic, orchestras responded they were not sexist in their hiring processes, that the men who auditioned simply outperformed their female counterparts at auditions. When challenged to put their confidence in male musicians to the test, they held “blind auditions”, where an opaque screen was erected between the candidates and the jury so that the candidates’ identities were totally concealed. This simple experiment revealed that the screen increased the probability of a woman advancing to the next round by up to 50% and tripled their chances of landing the role in the final round. 

This all just goes to show how powerful our unconscious biases can be. We may think we aren’t prejudiced, but it’s nearly impossible not to be. Our preferences are pulled from society, politics and upbringing and baked into us from an early age. They are almost unavoidable and are most disadvantageous to those who fall into the “non-preferable” categories, namely everyone who is not a young, white, educated male. Governments have tried to sidestep this discrimination for decades through employment equity acts, but the sad truth is that anti-discrimination laws haven’t had the positive impact intended. Despite anti-discrimination efforts in recent years, US managerial positions occupied by racial minorities declined while the black-white gap in hourly wages increased.

So why aren’t diversity programmes doing their job?

Because, according to many professionals such as Iris Bohnet, director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, diversity programmes are simply ineffective. 

The reason for this is twofold: firstly these programmes deal with the symptoms of discrimination at a surface level and secondly, they tend to decrease workplace diversity. 

In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Bohnet describes how diversity programmes lack the depth to make a difference. Because bias begins before you enter the boardroom, programmes need to address the issues underneath the surface of discrimination. 

(Read more about overcoming biases here)

Deloitte’s UK talent head agrees, “the bias is actually unconscious, so we really need to go further back in the process to the sifting phase”. Academic research points out that the résumé screening process can, mostly unintentionally, infuse the hiring process with bias. One of the most famous studies on this issue looked at the effect of African American sounding names on call-back rates. It found that individuals with names like Jamal and Lakisha had a 50% lower chance of being contacted for an interview, as opposed to individuals with typically Caucasian names like Emily or Greg.

And it’s not just our names that give our genders and ethnicities away. Studies have shown that even the extra little details on résumés, such as our addresses, hobbies and interests, can reveal a lot about our sex and social class – and this contributes to companies hiring in favour of privileged men. To examine this discrimination, one sneaky study switched the names of applicants on their résumés but kept all other details the same. The results? Candidates that revealed typically upper-class male characteristics are twice as likely to receive a call-back compared to others who possessed the same qualifications. These results are similar across the US, Canada, Sweden and Australia. 

Why not just attach a diversity statement to the advertised position, you ask? Well, a recent article in the Economist makes the argument that anti-discrimination statements by employers could actually result in added discrimination. Frequently, job advertisements come with equal opportunity statements attached to them stating that all applications will be taken into consideration, regardless of their race, gender or origin. These statements are aired with the aim to promote diversity and equal-opportunity hiring, however a new study from the University of Chicago reveals that they actually achieve the opposite. In the study, test applicants who fell into a “racial minority” category were a substantial 30% less likely to apply for a job that featured a diversity statement in its description. After all, who wants to be the “diversity hire”?

The Future of Fair Hiring

So how can we make the hiring process more effective and meritocratic? Well, firstly, we need to implement a strategy that can catch discrimination at its roots. Anita Ziemer, Executive Director of recruitment agency, Slade Group, believes that in order to “start addressing the bias itself and its roots so that people actually make the right decision in the first instance”, we need to integrate anonymity into the hiring process. 

Already, major firms such as HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money, and KPMG have implemented “blind hiring” programs to employ staff. In a blind hiring, candidates are rendered anonymous through a process that redacts their names, countries of origin and, sometimes, previous companies or universities they are affiliated with. This levels the playing field for potential employees and helps companies make an objective hiring decision based on who’s best for the job, and not just who looks good on paper. The process saves businesses money (by hiring the right person) and goes a long way toward increasing diversity and fair hiring practices.

But blind hiring doesn’t only increase the diversity of the candidate pool, it also has the power to involve a more diverse hiring group. Employees from different sectors within an organization can now play a role in the hiring process, which is particularly important for positions requiring communication across sectors.

And this is exactly where the value of Innodirect can be felt. Our online platform essentially acts as the screen between candidates and interviewers, anonymising the recruitment process right up until the final round of interviews. Applicants can take part in anonymous, online interviews where standardized questions are asked and answered in a mass discussion. Candidates can respond to others’ ideas and build on them or analyse them, displaying their critical thinking skills and ability to collaborate. Interviewers can monitor the discussion thread at their convenience, picking out the candidates with the best responses and sending them through to the last round by requesting their identity through our secure, online portal. 

In this way, businesses can:

  1. Recruit higher quality candidates. Because a larger number of applicants can be thoroughly considered, those candidates who make it to the final stage of interviews are more profoundly suited to the position. 
  2. Instill fair and impartial hiring practices.Anonymous recruitment automatically filters out less obvious traits such as shyness as well as biases based on race or gender.
  3. Foster inclusion and employee satisfaction. On our platform, more staff members are able to interview candidates. This makes employees feel heard and valued and helps your business make the right hiring decision across the board.
  4. Make the hiring process more efficient. With us, you can zone-in on the candidates’ suitability for the job in interviews that are shorter, fairer and more focused. Interviews can also be conducted from anywhere at any time – saving you on interview hours and onboarding time as well as the costs of travel, meeting rooms, and the long-term expense of hiring the wrong person.

If you’re interested in finding out how Innodirect can help you achieve a fairer, more efficient hiring process, contact us. We’d be happy to answer any of your questions.


 By: Kirsten Sokolovski, Innodirect Team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *