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How Blind Recruiting Can Remove Bias Hiring Managers

Part 1

We all recognize that tech has a diversity issue. Women comprise 57 percent of the professional workforce in the U.S., but held only 26 percent of professional computing occupations in 2017, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. There are half as many African Americans and Hispanics in tech than in the rest of the private sector.

And it’s only going to get worse if you look at the pipeline data. The chart below, from a 2018 Wired magazine article, shows that the number of white male students in computer science majors has ballooned since the turn of the century, dwarfing the number of women and minorities.

No wonder Silicon Valley has a bro problem.

Diversity is more than a feel-good HR thing; it’s essential for companies that want to solve complex problems, think like their diverse customer base, and stay out of the headlines for stupid stuff. Oleeo, a national talent consulting firm, says diverse teams not only perform better, but they’ll also win the war for talent over the next decade. The Millennial generation is the most diverse of any so far. Eighty-one percent of millennials say they have a friend of a different race or sexual orientation, and they’re going to be looking for work environments that reflect their inclusive values.

To be fair, tech is not the only industry losing ground on diversity. Finance, another testosterone-fueled environment, is also losing women. Female representation in the banking industry has declined from 39 percent to 35 percent over the past few years. In 2015, more than 80 percent of executives at Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley were white. More than two-thirds of executives at the same firms were male.

In the 2015 Business Insider article, HR staff reporters spoke to said few women or nonwhite candidates applied for open positions, making it hard to move the numbers. Another issue is unconscious bias by hiring managers and recruiters. Using “culture fit” as a hiring criterion can be a way to keep hiring people who look and think just like the rest of guys on the team.

In the 1970s, symphony orchestras had a similar problem. The vast majority of musicians were white men, personally hired by the conductors, who were almost exclusively white males. The conductors said they were only hiring the best-qualified musicians based on objective assessment of their talent. But when the New York Philharmonic was sued for discrimination, the Boston Symphony took note – and changed the audition process.

In the “blind audition,” musicians were not identified by name; they auditioned anonymously behind a screen. They even entered the audition space on a carpeted walkway, so heavier footsteps or the telltale click of high heels wouldn’t reveal gender.

It worked. Harvard and Princeton did a study of the diversity of symphonies that adopted the blind audition model. Blind auditions increased the chances of a woman being called back by 50 percent. In 1970, about 10 percent of major city orchestra members were female; by the mid-90s, the number had more than tripled to 35 percent.

Resumes can reveal gender, ethnicity, and age. Some hiring managers also have a bias toward hiring graduates from elite universities, putting people who may have superior skills learned at state schools at a disadvantage. A 2003 MIT study found that changing out a “black” name for a more “white” sounding name on the same resume increased the chances of getting an interview by 50 percent. A black name paired with an elite school put the candidate on equal footing with a white candidate from a lesser school, according to a 2005 follow up study.

Some tech companies have implemented the blind audition concept to coding and programming auditions, allowing them to judge candidates based on skill alone. It’s one way to work on the diversity issue.

(Until the machines got smarter than the recruiters, which we’ll get to in a future post.)

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