According to experts, one of the biggest HR mistakes the auditors keep finding, is sub-conscious bias within the recruitment process.
Many experts advocate an idea called blind hiring. At its most basic, this involves removing identifying information from CVs – such as age, race or gender. But what impact does this have on the recruitment process?
Subconscious bias exists in the recruitment process
It’s easy to let subconscious bias influence our recruitment decisions. According to ACAS, it most commonly occurs when we identify traits within a person that are similar to our own. For example:
- Educational background
This is harmful on several levels. Not only does it put you at risk of breaching one of the nine protected characteristics of discrimination, but it could also be stopping you from finding the best candidates. After all, no matter how easy it is to be drawn to a certain gender, age, religion, or whatever else… none of these factors inherently translate into an exceptional employee.
Blind hiring removes the ability to form subconscious bias
I don’t think you ever intend to be biased towards a particular type of person. But that’s the point here – it’s subconscious! So, the idea of blind hiring, is to remove the ability to form these subconscious judgements in the first place. If you don’t know the information that could sway your judgement, you have no choice but to judge a candidate based on their role-related merits.
Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1952. When they asked musicians to audition behind a screen, the orchestra began accepting more women into their ranks. A later research paper concluded that blind auditions increased the chance of a woman being accepted by an orchestra, by 50 percent.Blind hiring was made popular by the
The first step to hiring blind, is censoring your CVs
It’s definitely not practical to anonymise the entire recruitment process. You have to find information out about a candidate before you actually give them a contract. But you can anonymise parts of the process – and the CIPD says that using blind CVs can help.
“Anonymising CVs is an effective intervention for increasing diversity in organisations and reducing bias in recruitment” says the CIPD’s Head of Research, Ksenia Zheltoukhova, in a recent podcast.
There are different levels of CV anonymisation. Some recruiters who employ this tactic will only remove the basics, such as name and date of birth. But others will go as far as removing even more personal details, such as a candidate’s education. This is because some recruiters have been known to form a bias based on how similar a candidate’s education history is to their own. For example, a hiring manager who had a poor education, may sympathise or identify with a candidate who also had a poor education.
How to organise a blind CV trial
You can’t ask candidates to submit their CVs blind in the first place. Otherwise, how will you have the information you need to contact them? Instead, you’re going to need help from somebody in your organisation, who won’t be having any input on who gets selected for an interview.
- Decide which fields you’d like to anonymise. At its most basic level, you could simply choose to remove the name. This helps to eliminate bias such as gender and ethnicity. But you may decide that you are trying to avoid a different sort of bias altogether. For example, if you know you have a habit of hiring younger employees, you should consider censoring dates of birth, etc.
- Ask an impartial colleague to remove this information from CVs. There are other ways of automating the anonymisation process, but if you’re only running this as a trial, you might want to do it manually, first. Ask a colleague who will not be involved in the recruitment process to remove all information you identified in step 1.
- Review CVs as you normally would. To know whether or not blind hiring really has an impact on your recruitment process, you’ll want to change as few variables as possible. So, try to proceed with reviewing CVs in the same way you normally would. You’ll only find out who these candidates are once you decide who to invite to an interview.
There are other ways of organising blind recruitment drives. But blind CVs is a great place to start, if you want to try eliminating subconscious bias from the early stages of the recruitment process.
Blind CVs can have a positive impact on your recruitment process
And that is precisely the main benefit of using blind CVs as part of the recruitment process: It removes the initial bias that may affect your judgement, which could lead you to missing out on hiring a superstar.
Tash Jefferies, Co-Founder of Hirekind, says that “candidates who may otherwise never make it through screening for ethnic names, gender indicators, cultural indicators, get a chance to at least make it through to have screening interviews and make contact with real, live people.”
And there are plenty of other reasons why you should be striving to hire a more diverse workforce. As well as the fact that the most talented candidates can come from any background, with any age or gender, it’s worth noting that a more diverse workforce can also help us to find new solutions to tricky challenges, in ways we may not have thought of if we only hired people who were just like us.
However, there are plenty of issues you’ll need to navigate
But do blind CVs only impact your recruitment process in a positive way? Not necessarily. Many experts warn that there are several hurdles to navigate when deciding if it’s right for your company. For example, blind CVs may:
- Only remove bias from the earlier stages of recruitment. Steve Pritchard, HR Manager at Cuuver.com, says that a blind CV is limited in its effect. He says it “can only remove bias from the initial stage of the hiring process. When you meet them face to face, you will learn all of the personal information that was removed from the CV anyway. This means that if the hiring manager is inadequate, candidates may still be subject to bias.”
- Not be as anonymous as you might think. Sophie Miles, VP of Human Resources at com, says that recruiters form subconscious bias anyway, by piecing other clues together from the CV. She says: “Despite the omission of data that offer clear information on the gender, age or origin of the candidate, recruiters can infer from other data that do appear on the CV. For example, the experience offers guidance on age.”
- Give an incomplete picture of a person’s circumstances. Tash Jefferies, despite being generally supportive of the technique, says that a blind CV can fail to provide the context needed to understand why a candidate’s CV looks the way it does. For example, she says “working mums, people who are caregivers, people who’ve been incarcerated, people experiencing visa issues may have gaps in their work histories”, which she says a blind CV system cannot interpret.
On top of this, the process can be expensive and time-consuming. Either you need to manually anonymise each CV, which takes time, or you need to invest in new software, which can be expensive. I’m not saying it isn’t worth it, but you’ve got to first consider whether or not the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Blind recruitment isn’t the only way to improve diversity and hire better candidates
If you’re trying to improve diversity within your organisation, then there are lots of other things you should be doing. Forbes has plenty of advice on recruiting for diversity, for example:
- Be clear about your commitment to diversity. Funnily enough, simply saying out loud that you’re interested in hiring a diverse team, can actually have a big impact. Why? Well, because candidates who may feel as if ‘the system’ is against them, may be more likely to submit their application in the first place.
- Expand your search beyond your usual locations. Have you traditionally only ever posted vacancies on one particular job site, or in one particular geographical area? Expand. You might be getting stuck in a rut that is bringing you a very narrow type of candidate.
- Build a more diverse management and hiring team. If indeed subconscious bias comes from us seeking out qualities we possess ourselves, then having a diverse hiring team widens the net of characteristics your company is naturally likely to pick up on.
Another great way to boost the diversity of your hires and remove bias, is to use an independent ‘scorecard’ type approach. This can also help you remove things like group-based bias, or confirmation bias, where we form or confirm judgements, based on opinions that other people express.
How scorecards help remove bias and increase the quality of your hire
The way to use scorecards, is to ask each person in the hiring process to independently review and score candidates. This could be an overall score, but if you want to get really granular, you should be creating company-specific, or even role-specific, criteria for candidates to be scored on.
An example of a Hiring Manager reviewing Candidate Scorecards within People HR
The best way to do this, is to ask hiring managers to score candidates prior to discussing them with each other. This is because candidates can then be discussed, without fear of group-influenced bias, after they have been individually scored. Or, if you’re using an automated Applicant Tracking System, it’s normally quite easy to set the best average scores so that they rise to the top of your pipeline.
Discover how an Applicant Tracking System could help you hire better
People HR offers an advanced Applicant Tracking System that lets you score candidates based on questions you set. The best talent will then rise to the top of your pipeline.
The ATS within People HR automates the recruitment jobs you hate, while helping you focus on finding the perfect people for the roles you need to fill. Why not take a look?