Unconscious bias proliferates in all walks of life and, certainly, in corporate America. Despite plenty of coverage in the media and plenty of attention paid by companies that truly do wish to be inclusive, it remains an issue. From a business standpoint, unconscious bias is a particularly significant problem when it comes to the hiring process. As discussed in a 2014 Fast Company article on the subject, most of us honestly believe we are ethical and unbiased, but the simple truth is the opposite in many cases.
Recognizing this challenge, companies have spent a lot of time, effort and money on finding ways to mitigate the impact of unconscious bias on their hiring decisions. For example, some companies will remove names and addresses from resumes prior to their review, so it’s harder for those reviewing to ascertain the sex, ethnicity or socio-economic background of an applicant.
This is often referred to as “blind hiring.” But, is it a good idea or a misplaced area of focus?
National Public Radio (NPR) recently ran a story about new technology designed to improve the ability of employers to practice blind hiring strategies. The technology masks the voice of an applicant. So, for example, a female candidate could be made to sound like a man over the phone. It’s worth listening to the story, which contains a demonstration of the technology. It’s not the garbled kidnapper or terrorist voice we often hear via Hollywood voice-masking tools. It sounds like an actual human being, just of the opposite sex.
There also are some interesting points made here about the downsides of blind hiring. One is simply the practical challenges. At some point, unless you’re a virtual organization, you’re going to need to meet applicants in person, and you’ll discover their age, sex, race, etc. But, even if it were technically possible to hide certain characteristics of an applicant, some argue that we shouldn’t want to because doing so can actually hinder your diversity efforts.
Many companies strive to promote diversity in their workforce, and part of that effort often involves searching specifically for candidates of color, of a particular age group, of a certain sex, etc. Blind hiring, if it successfully achieves its stated goal, challenges the ability to do this.
Proponents of blind hiring argue that it will negate the impacts of unconscious bias and encourage diversity by ensuring that the most capable and talented applicants get hired, regardless of their color, sex, ethnicity or religion. While it may be too early to determine the extent to which blind hiring helps workforce diversity efforts, but it’s certainly worth considering the potential negative impacts as well.
What do you think. Are you a blind hiring proponent—or opponent? Why?
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