Eliminate Bias and Remove the Chains

Imagine yourself the CEO of a rising start up and everyone is applying to work with your teams to design solutions that could change the world. With your new technology comes a lot of notoriety and folks are starting to look at the diversity of your workforce and trying to decide if you are giving the best minds the best opportunity. In response to those inquiries and critiques, your director of HR approaches you with a new idea for hiring called, “blind hiring.”

An article in Fast Company provides a good summary of blind hiring or blind recruitment. It is the practice of removing any personally identifiable information (PII) from resumes and applications so as to minimize any chance of unconscious bias playing a role in the hiring process.

This typically includes name, gender, age, race, and education. Some countries like Canada and the United Kingdom have looked at implementing the practice.

Could a ‘blind recruitment’ policy make Canada less racist?

No names, no bias?

The article that caught my eye though was shared by a good friend recently. It talked about how the Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor has begun enforcing a “blind hiring” policy for all public jobs. The guidelines will affect over 400 public institutions. They are also pushing for a law to make this practice mandatory for private firms which could affect another 400 organizations.

Where the UK and Canada want to hide a job applicant’s name, gender, race, and education, Korea has gone much further. On top of sharing a job applicant’s name, gender, and race, weight, height, and blood type, they have also asked for parent’s professions and income levels.

Blind hiring is not a new topic. The conversation started over 40 years ago. To eliminate the power of gender bias, orchestras in the 1970s and 1980s started implementing a blind hiring process where they would have musicians play behind a screen. So all you could hear was the music. Research determined this simple step made it 50% more likely for women to reach the finals in their auditions. In the 1970s, the top orchestras in the United States only had 5% women. By the 1990s that number had risen to 25% and now is closer to 30%.

So, imagine looking at a job application where all you saw are the skills and accomplishments of the applicant. You didn’t know his or her name, gender, education, nothing. All you knew was what this person was skilled at and what accomplishments and stories backed up those claims. Isn’t that enough to invite the application to an interview to answer the next questions of cultural fit?

The specific part I want to focus on is education. I had the good fortune of graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in 2002. If I told you that today though, you probably wouldn’t hire me solely based on that information. You would probably want me to demonstrate the skills you are looking for and speak of recent accomplishments that demonstrate how I applied those skills.

When a person tells you he attended Harvard, almost immediately you place him on a higher level, but is that fair, especially to your company that you worked so hard to build? Wouldn’t you want to know if he had the skills and expertise you are looking for?

It reminds me of a story when I was looking to separate from active duty and go back to school and try to study physics. I was able to get in touch with a physics professor at MIT and asked him a question, “Does the undergraduate school I attend affect my application to MIT?” Keep in mind my undergraduate is in behavioral science.

His answer was simple. He talked about two students in his graduate department. The first had earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton University and the other attended a small state school in Pennsylvania.

He then asked me, “Which person do you think is having better success at MIT?”

I replied, “I am guessing it is the student from the small state school in Pennsylvania, correct?”

He responded, “Yes exactly and do you know why?”

I replied, “Probably because he has had to fight harder to get to MIT because he knew his school didn’t carry as much clout as Princeton which probably is one of the skills you are looking for, hard work and diligence.”

I couldn’t see his face since we were emailing each other but he replied in the affirmative. He said, “Yes, the student from the small state school is one of our top students and it is because he works harder than anyone in the department.”

Now I don’t want to say everyone from an Ivy League school doesn’t work hard, not at all. What I am trying to say is someone should not be judged on the name of the school he or she attended when what is going to determine their success is the hard work, diligence, and sweat they put in to the task at hand. So why give unconscious bias a chance to affect someone’s future?

That is why I think company’s like Degreed are where the future is headed with learning and recruitment. If I show you every resource I have used to learn what I know and share the skills I have developed through LinkedIn, shouldn’t that be enough for us to have a conversation and figure out if I can help your company change the world?

What do you think?