Last week at the Chief Executive Women Annual Dinner, Carnival Australia chairman Ann Sherry provided the night’s keynote address and said that leading technology, engineering and pharmaceutical companies that had removed the names and gender of job applicants- known as blind hiring- & had watched the ratio of men to women shortlisted jump from one woman in 10 to 50/50.
“The numbers gave them hard evidence of what we’ve always been aware of – the unconscious bias at work when hiring, creating a cycle of men recruiting men who look like them,” Ms Sherry – also chairwoman of the male champions of change for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) group – said.
Much commentary followed that all organisations- if they were serious about gender diversity- needed to implement blind shortlisting. For historical reference, as late as 1970, the top five orchestras in the U.S. had fewer than 5% women. In an attempt to overcome gender-biased hiring, a vast majority of symphony orchestras revised their hiring practices. Previously, musicians were handpicked by all male conductors and mostly all male principal players of each section, from a narrow candidate pool of male students from a select group of mostly male teachers. Affinity bias occurs when we gravitate to people like us because it creates a sense of familiarity and comfortableness. Affinity bias is most often at play in the hiring process- when hiring managers implicitly hire in the image of themselves. Renowned conductors at this time stated that female musicians had “smaller techniques,” were more temperamental, or were simply unsuitable for orchestras. In the words of Yuri Temirkanov, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 1999 to 2006, “the essence of a conductor’s profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness.” The idea that men and women have different playing or conducting styles is an example of stereotypical bias, impacting on perceptions of merit.
To address structural biases in the hiring process, and overcome personal biases of the selection panels, many orchestras opened up their hiring process to ensure a broader range of candidates as well as three rounds of live or recorded auditions. A number of orchestras adopted “blind” auditions using screens to conceal the identity and gender of the musician from the selection panel. In 2000, research by Cecilia Rouse, Princeton and Claudia Goldin, Harvard University, confirmed the value of blind auditions, showing the statistical likelihood of a female musician advancing from the preliminary rounds of an audition increased by 50 percent. Blind auditioning has since been adopted by most American symphonies.
Following the publication of this study, several organisations began piloting blind auditioning, to see if the results could be replicated in business.
In business today, we see every day examples of disruption- applying ideas and techniques from other industries to change the way business is done. Studying the status quo and looking for the inefficiencies—then breaking it down completely to put it back together in an entirely new way is the flow of disruption. However, applying blind auditioning to a business situation is not always fit for purpose.
- Recruiters are critical gatekeepers for candidate CVs; recruiters play a critical role in priming, influencing and educating hiring managers. Recruiters biases need to be accounted for when selecting information to blind.
- Excessive hours required by recruitment to ‘blind’ CV details for hiring managers
- Inequity in internal candidates applying for roles, where details are not ‘blind’
- Inequity of the hiring process; due to a lack of sustainability of the practice for reasons above, the practice is mostly limited to senior hires only.
- Many organisations strive to promote diversity in their workforce, and have already invested in recruiter/ hiring manager education to reduce biases. Part of that effort often involves searching specifically for disability candidates, of a particular age group, gender, etc. Blind hiring challenges the ability to do this.
- Lack of rigorous research demonstrating causal impact between blind hiring and positive outcomes.
Organisations over the last 10 years experimenting with blind recruitment include the UK Government, the BBC, HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money, Ernst & Young, Victoria Police, Westpac Bank, and KPMG . Many Australian organisations who apply blind recruitment practices, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, have limited the practice to senior hires only due to the challenges outlined above. In 2016, the Victorian Government began a trial removing personal details – such as name, gender, age and location – from job applications to rule out discrimination or unconscious bias. Again, the trial focused on senior appointments only.
Last week, Professor Michael Hiscox, a Harvard academic who oversaw the Victorian Government trial, called a halt to blind hiring, stating that the measure is not assisting in promoting diversity, and indeed is creating an opposite effect of favouring men . The report “Going blind to see more clearly: unconscious bias in Australian Public Service shortlisting processes” demonstrated that due to prior efforts to promote awareness and support for diversity among senior staff, hiring managers were now 2.9% more likely to shortlist female candidates when CVs were not blinded. In context, in 2016, women comprised 59.0% of the Australian Public Service as a whole, but only accounted for 42.9% of its Senior Executive Service (SES).
Mitchell Services collaborates with Global, multi-national & ASX500 organisations to review diversity recruitment practices including clients such as Boston Consulting Group in China, and IBM Growth Market countries. In 2011, I was appointed as IBM’s first Diversity Recruitment Leader, responsible for developing and executing strategy to lift gender diversity recruitment for over 50 countries. Coming from 10 years of travelling globally for technical project management and Human Capital Management executive roles, I was surprised to hear a flood of assumptions about diversity recruitment including “women won’t travel”, “women just aren’t attracted to IT careers” and “male managers only hire male candidates”. Blind hiring was not a viable consideration given the thousands of CVs received for single roles, a lack of rigorous research on the benefits, but also IBMs focus on big data.
We now have the awareness, the analytics, and the technology to use big data for the benefit of revealing trends and gaps, not concealing and hiding data.
Applying an evidence-based fit for purpose approach to IBMs hiring process, I created a bias interrupter; to track every stage of the application process to isolate where biases may exist and interrupt it. I discovered the gender field was not mandatory at application stage, causing a data hole across the recruitment pipeline. Leveraging big data enabled the issue to be isolated and exposed; for every 100 men applying, only 1 women applied. The recruitment team now knew there was an attraction issue and created a range of pilot projects including focus groups with potential candidates, agencies and past candidates on the Employee Value Proposition; relaunching recruitment campaigns; conducting non-gendered language job description redesign. In conjuction with these efforts was the continuation of a holistic approach with hiring manager education, behavioral-based interviewing, hiring panels, etc… This pilot was key to increasing female experienced professional hires from 23-30%. Australian IBM General Manager Andrew Stevens stated“That is the highest rate in years. It was a small thing to do, you could almost disregard it, but it had a big effect”.
Mitchell Services partners with organisations to create systemic change through developing diversity strategy and bias interrupters across structural, cultural, interpersonal, personal and unconscious bias dimensions. Interventions at every level with a focus on fit for purpose.
Implementing Inclusion & Diversity bias interrupters like blind recruiting require an evidence-based approach- not a blunt instrument. An I&D Audit is the starting point- qualitative & quantitative data pinpointing issues in your hiring process- design the bias interrupter to address- pilot- then measure.
Download our White Paper here on designing evidence-based bias interrupters.
 MLA: Goldin, Claudia and Cecilia Rouse. “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of” Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians.” The American Economic Review 90.4 (2000): 715-741.
 Joseph, J. (2016). What companies use blind/anonymous resumes and what bene ts have they reported? Cornell University.
 Hiscox, M. (2017) Going blind to see more clearly: unconscious bias in Australian Public Services shortlisting processes