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What is blind hiring, and how are companies using it to foster diversity?

Posted by Kanika Sinha

October 12, 2021    |     4-minute read (632 words)

Most companies are well aware of the importance of employing a diverse workforce. It is regarded as improving innovation, problem-solving and decision-making. But many employers struggle with how to set aside biases including unconscious racism, ageism and sexism that are seemingly inherent to the hiring and recruitment process.

One solution that some companies are exploring to step up workplace diversity is the practice of blind hiring — that is, finding ways to mask candidates’ identifiable attributes that are not linked to the job during the recruitment process.

Understanding blind hiring  

Blind hiring is a system that places “blinds” over certain information deemed as “unnecessary” in a resume or job application, meaning information that is not linked to the job or experiences needed for success, such as a candidate’s gender, ethnicity, age, name, race and socioeconomic background. It also removes attributes like academic qualifications or experience, thereby ensuring that candidates are judged based on skills, not where they came from.

How it works

Accessing identifiable demographic characteristics of candidates can divert the attention of HR managers away from the applicant’s skill sets, experience and qualifications that help determine whether the candidate is right for the job. This creates an unfair playing field for candidates and causes organizations to overlook some great potential hires. 

For instance, even though employers may assume that knowing the candidates’ school helps them discern their intelligence and capabilities, it also creates a huge potential for bias about the person's background and level of affluence.

By hiding such attributes, blind hiring helps remove the cognitive biases that creep up when reading a resume and eliminates preconceived notions and stereotypes that HR managers might have about candidates. So, the process helps hiring managers to stay focused and make sound decisions based exclusively on the job seeker’s skills and knowledge related to the job. 

How it started

The practice was first introduced by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1952. While most orchestras at the time employed nearly all white men, blind auditions targeted diversification by eliminating focus from everything but the candidate’s performance. A follow-up study by a Princeton University researcher found that blind auditions increased the likelihood of women being hired in orchestras by 25% to 46%.

Decades later in 2014, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Kedar Iyer created a software company called GapJumpers based on the same principle. Recognizing the number of talented coders whose job applications were routinely overlooked by hiring managers for lack of an elite pedigree, Iyer designed software that masks candidates’ names, faces and personal information from employers during the initial hiring stages. 

The data suggests that using the GapJumpers platform increases the chances of minority and female applicants being offered a first-round job interview by around 40% in comparison to standard resume screening.

How companies are embracing blind hiring

In an effort to help combat biases and boost diversity, an increasing number of companies are embracing blind hiring including Ernst & Young, Deloitte, BBC, Reckitt Benckiser and Westpac Bank.

Ernst & Young decided to do away with the requirement of baseline grade averages for new hires and started using its own tests to judge candidates. Also, the global professional services provider introduced the “blind CVs” recruitment policy in 2015 that removed all academic and education details from their trainee application process.

Another global professional services firm, Deloitte’s U.K. business, started using a school-blind hiring process to help address unconscious bias. The firm’s new process hid the education pedigree of job applicants from its recruiters and interviewers up until an offer has been extended. Additionally, they utilized software to compare applicants' grades against standardized data and helped them better contextualize candidates' abilities.

BBC adopted a diversity strategy that involved anonymizing job applications, meaning it removed candidates' names and university details from resumes.

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