Blind hiring – answer to unconscious bias and boosting diversity?

Published on 11-08-2017

Companies are seeking to develop a diverse workforce and eliminate discrimination or more accurately bias in recruitment. Diversity is a hot topic and embraced by many scholars as well as companies. Just another approach has been thrown onto the market – blind hiring. What is it and does this help to boost diversity?

What is blind hiring?

When it comes to defining blind hiring, there is little common ground to be found in the literature. Two interpretations of blind hiring are circulating. Some consider blind hiring as simply removing all information from CVs that could identify the candidate. First and foremost name, gender classification and profile photos need to be removed to introduce neutrality towards potential candidates.

However, some companies do not only de-identify the CVs, but also remove the entire ‘history’ of candidates. Meaning they do not consider work placements, previous companies worked for, university degrees or any other information that is not associated with the actual skill set of applicants. Basically, resumes are not weighted at all before making a decision about a candidate. In return, companies use several assessment methods and work samples to get a better understanding of the applicants.

The ultimate goal is to manage unconscious bias of hiring managers and purely judge candidates on their abilities. A side effect of blind hiring, at least one many scholars and companies wish to gain, is to increase diversity in workforce and diminish discrimination towards certain social groups.

A recently launched campaign in South Korea and and a conducted field experiment in Australia, both in public service sectors, are supposed to deliver new insights into the effectiveness of blind hiring.

South Korea’s public service sector about to change hiring practices

South Korea’s public sector wants to move away from image-based assessments and towards blind hiring. The new president of South Korea, Moon Jea-in, recently said:

“An applicant’s look, family background or hometown shouldn’t be factors in a job application.”

South Korea’s society is very image-conscious and appearance is very important. One could even say that it is an appearance-obsessed culture. The hiring process reflects that consciousness as most companies ask candidates to submit a profile picture along with the application. Many companies even decline applicants or do not invite them to interviews unless a “headshot” is included.

The requirement to include a photo with their application stems from the believe of many recruiters that the face unveils characteristics about the future employee. Many Koreans believe that the face is a “window into one’s destiny”. Consequently, companies ask professional face readers to sit on their interview panel. Ahn Joon-Beom is a face reader and convinced that face reading is a good tool to find talented people. To make the best possible first impression, job seekers even hire image consultants, who help to them to revamp their appearance and take professional photos.

The launched campaign will affect the public service sector only, but South Korea’s presidents hopes private companies will adopt this hiring practice as well. Not only candidates will benefit from removing the photo, but ultimately companies are supposed to find more suitable candidates.

Field experiment with surprising outcome in Australia

English researchers have conducted a field experiment in the Australian public sector to assess whether or not women and minorities are discriminated in early stage recruitment and to test the implementation of blind hiring practices for senior management roles. In a fictional setting, recruiters were asked to assess a given set of CVs and shortlist the five best candidates. This is the design of the recruitment trials:

Blind hiring

Participants in Control Group 1 reviewed CVs including names of each candidate. Participants in Control Group 2 reviewed the same CVs but each name was substituted with a name of the opposite gender. Participants in the Treatment Group, again, reviewed the same CVs, but the names of candidates were removed and replaced with labels CV1, CV2, and so forth.

So, what’s the outcome?

This is a quote from professor Hiscox, who is head of the research team:

“We should hit pause and be very cautious about introducing this as a way of improving diversity, as it can have the opposite effect.”

He is referring to the surprising results that blind hiring actually leads to a reduced likelihood of women being hired.

Blind hiring outcomes

Even though the differences are small, on average participants were 2.9 percent more likely to shortlist candidates when a female name is assigned to the CV relative to the de-identified version. The probability of CVs with male names assigned to it and being shortlisted decreased by 3.2 percent for the same set of CVs.

In practice, that means women might have a reduced chance of being invited for a job interview if applications were de-identified. The likelihood of any male candidate being shortlisted would go up if the name were to be removed. Researchers point out that all results report the probability of being shortlisted rather than the proportion of males and females in the shortlist composition changes with de-identification.

In a nutshell, blind hiring is not the answer to boost diversity and manage bias of hiring managers. What else can be done though?

Hiring for Cultural Fit helps to increases workplace diversity

The misconception of a diverse workforce leads to wasted efforts of companies to increase diversity. The issue of hiring for diversity is not solved by merely hiring more women, people with different cultural backgrounds, candidates of different age groups or from minority groups. The decision whether or not someone is being hired, should not be based on these factors, but rather on their complementary and supplementary fit.

Briefly speaking, complementary and supplementary fit describe the character traits and attributes of a candidate that either reflect the existing company culture (supplement) or those traits and attributes that further develop the culture (complement).

Focusing on the concept of hiring for Cultural Fit, including the above mentioned ways to impact the corporate culture, will really help to develop a diverse workforce.

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