Is blind recruitment the best answer to unconscious bias?

Blind hiring, which omits personally identifiable information, has many advantages, but also its fair share of cons.

Unconscious bias, whether one likes it or not, does not spare anyone, not even the best among us.

As Vicki Ng, Head of HR, Asia, at property group Lendlease, recently wrote, unconscious bias is an unassuming prejudice against someone, usually unfair or stereotypical, based on visible traits and preconceived notions. 

But when individuals bring this to the workplace, particularly recruiters, HR and business leaders, their collective bias will stifle their organisations’ diversity levels, recruiting and retention efforts, and create a homogeneous corporate culture – all of which are enemies of innovation and collaboration.

While Ng advocates the active promotion of equality and fairness across an organisation, is it the most effective solution?

Some argue that talent acquisition managers, as the gatekeepers of their organisations – the ones with a large say in who is let in – should definitely lead the way when it comes to the elimination of unconscious bias from the workplace.

That’s because, as Hays stated in a study earlier this year, the recruitment stage has, unsurprisingly, the greatest impact on workforce composition.

“At its most basic, it is about whether you see someone as part of your ‘in group’. For example, do you have a Caucasian sounding name, as I do? Did you go to the same university as me?,” said Yvonne Smyth, Head of Diversity at Hays, about how prejudice can rear its ugly head during the screening process.  

This is nothing new or revolutionary, but one of the most effective ways hiring managers can eradicate their personal biases and partisan attitudes, many experts say, is through blind recruitment.

It’s only natural that hiring managers can have a tendency to lean towards candidates with previous experience at a prolific organisation or those possessing degrees from top institutions.

However, these are rarely the only set of indicators that can predict how well candidates will perform in the future.

Other times, interviewers might prefer candidates who share their interests or those who they simply click with. If 50% of job candidates are hired based on such preferences, then organisations are certainly not hiring the most-ideal talent. 

As a counter-measure, blind recruitment typically involves omitting personally identifiable information, such as name, gender, age and education, from applicant CVs.

During the interview stage, the same questions should also be asked in the same sequence for every candidate. As Irish e-learning company SocialTalent explains, even asking about hobbies or leisure interests would be off-limits, as would checking up on the candidate’s social media profile.

“Interviews are conducted through chat so no faces are seen, sometimes using voice masking software. In some cases, resumes are eliminated from the hiring process entirely,” the company wrote in a blog.

“Instead, candidates are evaluated on the basis of their scores on tests or tasks that mirror the work they would be doing in their new role.”

Such a hiring approach has been shown to work. A recent study conducted by Harvard Business School found that individuals hired through blind methods actually stayed in their jobs longer and were less likely to be fired.

But blind hiring and testing also have their downsides.

The process of testing, while useful for the company in finding out competency levels, might be seen as a waste of time by some candidates and want to be compensated for the lengthy screening. Some star talent might even feel that the company is just using the tests as idea boards.

The lack of indicators during blind selection, which omits most details about job applicants, could also end up feeling like taking stabs in the dark, possibly leading to a skills mismatch between both parties. 

At times, the quest for diversity might also compromise the goals of consistent workplace culture. Thus, it is key that companies walk the line between those two objectives gently.

For some companies, blind hiring might not be realistic for the majority of their job openings or for the size of their teams. In such cases, the most suitable approach might be to apply blind hiring techniques early in the search.

“Blind recruitment is not a silver bullet, neither absolutely right nor absolutely wrong. It is a tool that you can use to create a level playing field, so use it, but use it with caution,” said Smyth. 

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