Blind Recruitment – The Way to Overcoming Bias in Hiring?

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Partiality. Prejudice. Bias.

They’re ugly words in any circumstance. Uglier still even when applied – even unconsciously – by a human resources professional when considering a candidate keen for a job. Yet interviews, even those conducted by the most seasoned, cautious and responsible hiring professional, may inadvertently be tainted by unintended preconceptions. Because we as human beings judge others based on multiple factors, some of them taught or otherwise ingrained over years, HR professionals who reflexively allow biases to influence their hiring decision may sign on the worst employee ever, and shut the door on a candidate who could have taken their company to the stars.

We meet a candidate face to face and strive to remain fair and free of prejudices. We steel ourselves to simply evaluate the candidate based on the words on the resume and the answers to our questions. Don’t think race. Ignore gender. Forget that accent, whether it’s from Tuscaloosa, Tokyo, or Tehran. Look beyond that wheelchair, the hairstyle, those tattoos, the candidate’s age or youth. Forget they have the same name as a kid that bullied you in 5th grade.

But it’s often hard to prevent our predispositions from getting in the way.

Perhaps that’s why the concept of justice as a robed woman holding a sword or scroll in one hand and scales in the other, is usually depicted wearing a blindfold. Prevented from making an evaluation based on her visual perception of the accused, Justitia (that’s her name) makes her decision based solely on merit, and symbolizes the fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, avarice, prejudice, or favor.

We should all be so fair.

But what if we could?

What if, in the hiring process at least, we could neuter all of our preconceived notions? What if we could distill the hiring process so we recommend or hire based purely on each candidate’s merits?

This is a radical notion that flies in the face of standard practices.  Yet it could work.

Imagine trying this: Don’t meet the candidate in person. Don’t even talk with them on the phone.

With so many popular chat apps, interview him or her using the keyboard. It can be done in real time, so the candidate has no time to prepare canned answers. But you’ll be able to learn everything you need to know, using a more pure evaluative processes, as blind to prejudice as Justitia herself.

You won’t know the applicant’s race. You won’t know his or her gender. You won’t know the candidate’s age. You won’t even know what he or she looks like. You will just know the candidate by their qualifications.

Impossible? No. It’s being done, and by some pretty big companies.

There’s a job board offering a similar experience called Blendoor. You don’t see a candidate’s photo. You don’t even see their name or their age. Just their experience and aptitude for the job. It’s called “blind recruiting.”  Blendoor was created by Stephanie Lampkin, an African-American. She had applied for an engineering position with a large technology company and, with an engineering degree from Stanford and an MBA from MIT, and thought she was qualified for the job, but after a face-to-face meeting, Lampkin was told by a recruiter she wasn’t “technical enough.”

Ms. Lampkin had been doing coding since she was 13.

The result is Blendoor, which Ms. Lampkin created with the intent of helping recruiters prevent unconscious biases and give candidates a fair chance. “A recruiter simply matches with candidates, candidates match with a recruiter, whenever there’s a match each gets a push notification and they can message each other, set up a phone screening, interview, or formal application,” Lampkin explained.

As mentioned above, a number of high-profile organizations are moving toward blind recruiting sites to field candidates, according to Fast Company. Deloitte, the BBC, the law firm of Clifford Chance, and cloud-storage firm Compose Inc. are already using such sites.

In addition to helping candidates, blind recruitment provides organization with a more diverse workforce, which can aid companies in multiple ways.

Blind recruitment may be new in terms of websites and apps, but the practice has been around for a while – and working quite well. As reported in the same Fast Company article, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra realized thirty years ago that it lacked diversity: Every musician was a white male. Says director general of the Institute of Recruiters Azmat Mohammed, “’They put a screen in front of the actual people who were looking to hire people in this orchestra, so all they heard was the music that was being played – and the decisions they made from that hiring method meant that an all-white male orchestra moved to half-female, half-male, and with a lot more diversity,’ he says. ‘They got a brilliant result in terms of the sound they wanted for their orchestra and, at the same time, the diversity, which clearly was an issue and which is how they ended up with an all-white male orchestra in the first place, was diverted.’”

Talk about a harmonious work environment.

So the benefits are obvious. But before beginning your blind recruitment initiative, take time to consider the parameters that suit your environment.

How “blind” do you want to go? What elements do want hidden – name, education, address, age?  What information is required for you to make the best decision for the available position? A tech firm may require a person with a degree in electrical engineering or computer programming, but may prefer – or on the other hand want to avoid – graduates from the most elite schools.

You may also want to consider psychometric tests to determine information beyond what’s on a candidate’s resume. Such tests may help reveal how a candidate approaches problems and may help a hiring professional determine if that individual will fit in with their team.

But even if an organization does not decide to use a blind recruitment app, recognizing that bias is part of human nature and something that can be overcome with training may be an institutional program to adopt. Those in the hiring process may learn vital things about themselves that can benefit the organization, the hiring process, and the HR professionals themselves.

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Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a formal journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

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