Consider this scenario: you’re meeting your friend’s new partner for the first time. Your friend hasn’t told you a lot about their partner, but you know things are getting pretty serious. The partner greets you with a genuine smile and solid handshake. So far so good. You get to chatting and discover that the partner grew up in the same suburb as you, and went to the same university … what are the odds?! Then you find out they also follow the same football team as you — instant approval!
But … what if they had given you a limp handshake? Grew up on the “other side” of the river/city? Went to a uni that wasn’t as good as yours? Or don’t actually follow football (shock horror)!? How would you be feeling about them then? And does that really have anything to do with how good a fit they are as a partner for your friend?
We all have a number of unconscious biases that come into play when we are trying to make decisions about people. This is our brain’s way of taking a shortcut and making things easier for us. And this starts from the very first time we are made aware of this individual, such as when we meet them, or, as it more commonly occurs in the recruitment process — through an application or their CV. In this context we make unconscious assumptions about people based on their name, gender and other key pieces of information we can glean from their application. Consequently, this can create difficulties when we’re trying to create a more diverse workforce in our organisations.
When recently speaking with a prospective client in the tech industry, we got to talking about how he’s been working to automate the initial selection process to try and decrease the “human touchpoints” to eliminate the impact of bias around not only gender and ethnicity but things such as what university the candidate went to. This can be a difficult balancing act to make sure the candidate still feels engaged with the organisation throughout the process, which includes an online application that automatically screens candidates based on key criteria, followed by a psychometric assessment. The result: they’re making more diverse hires, and people that previously wouldn’t have made it through the initial stages are now being hired.
The positive impacts of diversity
These days, it’s widely accepted that workplace diversity can have a positive impact on a business’s bottom line. According to the Diversity Council of Australia, greater executive and board diversity in organisations leads to equity returns more than 50% higher and gross earnings 15% higher than organisations with lower diversity.
With the ASX now recommending organisations report on their gender diversity including disclosing in their annual reports achievements against gender objectives set by the board, and the proportion of women in senior management and wider company roles, it’s more important than ever to address diversity in the workforce.
Enter blind recruitment
So how exactly do we decrease the impact of unconscious bias in the selection process? A number of different organisations, such as Google, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Victorian government and Westpac are now either embracing or trialling “blind recruitment”. This refers to the practice of removing key identifiers (most commonly name and gender, but some organisations go so far as to remove education and university) with the goal of decreasing the impact unconscious bias can have on our decision-making process when recruiting.
Think it sounds a little extreme? Maybe not, when you consider research from the Australian National University that sent out over 4000 resumes that were identical apart from the candidate’s name to different organisations and found that to get as many interviews as an applicant with an Anglo sounding name:
- An indigenous person had to submit 35% more applications;
- A Chinese person had to submit 68% more applications;
- An Italian person had to submit 12% more applications; and
- A Middle Eastern person had to submit 64% more applications.
Revelian product manager Salih Mujcic has also had a similar experience, which he reflected upon in his blog.
How does blind recruitment work?
There’s no one way to do blind recruitment, and different organisations are doing it in slightly different ways. In some situations, such as auditioning for an orchestra, it’s much easier — you can get performers to audition behind a screen, forcing the panel to make decisions solely on the musical performance. In a typical recruitment process however, it can be a little more challenging.
Some organisations remove the name and gender from applications, while others will also remove university and location. It really depends on what particular bias you are trying to limit the impact of, which is determined by what is most relevant to your organisation. Are you trying to increase the numbers of females? Have a more ethnically diverse organisation? Increase diversity of thought? Make sure senior managers are not biased based on the university the applicant attended?
You also need to consider how far you want to go with blind recruitment. Do you want to just focus on the initial application? This is more realistic and practical, but will this really address the impact of unconscious bias? Or do you need to take it further?
Google use psychometric assessments as a great way to gather further information about candidates without needing to identify them. But would you be prepared to go so far as to hire a candidate without interviewing them?
The critical question: does it actually work?
While blind recruitment has been around for a while, the recent rise in popularity has shown some promising initial results. The ABS wanted to increase the numbers of females in senior roles, so they removed names, genders and other identifiers from applications. In addition, they emphasised flexible hours and working from home options as well as providing training for their interview panels and management on unconscious bias. As a result, 15 of 19 senior hires were female, whereas previously only 21% of their senior roles were filled by women.
So while this sounds promising, the effectiveness of blind recruitment warrants further research (particularly in the psychological literature) to determine the overall effectiveness over and above other initiatives. It may be helpful, and a good step towards decreasing the impact of unconscious bias, but it’s not a silver bullet by any means.
That being said, increasing diversity is probably best addressed by implementing a multi-faceted approach, as blind recruitment used in isolation may not have as great an impact. Considerations such as the language and images used in job advertisements and on the company website, conducting unconscious bias training, as well as designing jobs so that they attract talented people from a group you want to target can all assist in achieving a more diverse workforce.
For more in-depth insights into sourcing candidates, successful hiring and other elements of recruitment, download the complete e-book.