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How firms are countering ‘unconscious bias’ while hiring

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While employers are typically encouraged to find out as many details as possible about candidates, keeping personal details such as name, gender, age and location in the dark might turn out to be a smarter way to hire.

To test this theory, the Victorian government in Australia had initiated the Recruit Smarter project as an effort to avoid any unconscious bias on job seekers.

By removing identifying details from resumes, blind hiring or anonymous hiring, allows job seekers the chance to slip past entrenched but unspoken beliefs and prejudices.

In the initial stage of the project, 29 large public and private sector organisations including Westpac, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Australia Post, Dow Chemical, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Victoria Police have shown their support for blind hiring.

Robin Scott, the Victorian minister for multicultural affairs, says his wife struggled to get a job interview until she took her Chinese name (Shaojie) off her resume and replaced it with an anglicised alternative, Jade Scott.

“Almost instantaneously there was a change in the response, and this is essentially the same CV, same material going out,” he told The Guardian.

Executive director of Slade Group, Anita Ziemer pointed out that biases in recruitment are many and varied, and the “old school tie” still has an impact, particularly in financial services and wealth management.

Luckily, firms seem to be aware of the fact that they are missing out on top talent by favouring their alumni.

Starting this summer, Goldman Sachs is abandoning on-campus interviews for undergraduates at elite schools and will now ask students to use pre-recorded interviews to pitch for a job at the bank.

Results have been encouraging so far.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has doubled its proportion of women bosses in a matter of months, thanks to blind recruitment.

James Palmer, ABS chief operating officer, said that countering ‘unconscious bias’ was behind the blind recruitment, and that this remains a problem for HR managers in the public services.

ALSO READ: How many interviewers does it take to spot a good candidate?

“Despite people’s best intentions, they still operate in a way that draws on their inherent biases,” he said. “It wasn’t about perfect anonymity because you can’t redact everything that might indicate somebody’s identity or origin, you might end up with the whole application blacked out.  But you can certainly remove any indication of what the person’s gender is,” he told HC Online.

Despite all the obvious benefits of blind hiring Jon Williams, the global leader of people and organisation at PricewaterhouseCoopers, is sceptical about the effectiveness of anonymous recruitment on its own because, at some stage, job seekers will still have to make it past a face-to-face interview.

“It is an awesome way of removing unconscious bias in the initial selection. But all you can do is remove it in the first instance and there are very few jobs where you are going to appoint someone purely on the basis of a written submission without actually meeting them,” he told The Guardian.

“So all you are doing is papering over the bias in the first instance, so you may get a 10% benefit, but you are still relying on people to make decisions based on interactions with other human beings.”

Removing identifying details from resumes must be supported with other approaches, he says. “We need to start addressing the bias itself and its roots so that people actually make the right decision in the first instance”.

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