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Deconstructing The Unconscious Bias: The Case For Blind Recruitment

Updated: Sep 16


Diversity is continuingly expanding in the business realm, and many companies want to embrace those of different backgrounds. This is made even more apparent in the growing trend of blind recruitment: the hiring of individuals without any signifiers to remove any unconscious bias that may occur in the recruitment process. This practice is to alleviate the issue of underrepresented individuals having difficulty procuring employment for any degree of factors that have nothing to do with their workplace capabilities.  The stereotyping or discrimination of certain groups based on unaware prejudices otherwise known as unconscious bias is determined to be the general cause in a lack of diversity in the North American workforce. Employers who utilize this practice are looking to hire the most suitable candidate for the job, regardless of race, gender, orientation or any number of factors. In Canada, the higher-paying sectors are predominantly male dominated, when the majority of those employed throughout the country are female. Diversity is inevitable when blind recruitment is put into play. Those who have gone underrepresented for the position will be given a much stronger chance of demonstrating their abilities.


Immigration Statistics

Melting pot countries are having more and more immigrants coming in to fulfill roles at every level, blind recruitment is pushing to get the workforce to reflect that. The job market doesn’t exactly represent this growing diversity, as studies demonstrate that immigrants have been seeing an issue with attaining employment over their native counterparts. In 2019, the unemployment rate in Canada was 5.7%, with the number of landed immigrants within 5 years of residence being almost twice as high at 9.5%. We have such a vast number of people coming into this country with such a high level of skill and lengthy education who do not receive the same opportunity as people who have spent all or most of their lives in the country. In 2019, over 310,000 immigrants were admitted, which displays that we have such an untapped market for potential and representation. 



Research on Workplace Discrimination


Research on workplace Discrimination

In a study by the Harvard Business School, The Role of Beliefs in Driving Gender Discrimination, we see that biases can be commonly presented in the workplace to the opposite sex. Men are more likely to hire men, as are women more likely to hire women. There are a multitude of cases in which both resumes are identical, but the men have been chosen over the equally skilled female candidate; this being a clear example of discrimination. “Our results suggest that beliefs about average group differences are an important driver of discriminatory behavior. Thus, designing processes that reduce reliance on beliefs about candidates that are informed largely by group membership, and not individual characteristics, should help to limit the extent to which belief-based discrimination occurs in hiring and other workplace decision-making. This could mean collecting more, and more objective, information from each candidate.” This study states that a process in designing a hiring method in terms of qualifications and merit over mutual characteristics would benefit the labour force. Historically, men have controlled these roles and this will likely continue even when looking to hire outside of what they are traditionally accustomed to. 


Issues of gender are not the only problems that are prevalent in the hiring process. Racial discrimination is also noticeable in the North American workplace, and even worldwide. In 2019, North Western University conducted a study on racial bias in 9 countries across North America and Europe to determine how the difficulty of the native white candidates compared to minority candidates in the hiring process. In Canada, they saw an 11% higher chance of discrimination in the hiring of non-white candidates over Caucasian individuals. Germany was found to be the country with the least amount of racial bias, as the study states they have achieved this by requiring more skill based information during the application and interview process. Even just having your name on a resume could result in increased difficulty in finding work. In a 2014 report conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it was found that candidates with foreign names in 17 countries had more difficulty finding work than their counterparts. This is not an exclusive problem to North America.


Discrimination Based on Disability

Disabled individuals have a noticeably more difficult time in finding employment than their more physically able counterparts. A 2011 Canadian study stated that those with a mild or moderate disability with a university degree have a significantly more challenging time gaining similar level employment than individuals who are not disabled. In general, disabled women have more of a difficult time receiving work over disabled men. 


Discrimination Based on Age

Ageism is rising as companies seek out and embrace modern technology, pushing out the older generation often with the assumption (fair or not) that they don’t have the same skills required in the tech era. The tech industry, in particular, is known for seeking out younger employees while the older ones are left aside. While 1 in 5, seniors aged 65 or higher are working in Canada, there is an increasing push for them to retire due to their increased citing concerns around  competency, technical and otherwise, as well as their increased compensation.


Bias In the Workplace Is Still a Canadian Problem

Many other groups have their own struggles finding work in their desired field. Depending on the role, it can be very difficult for certain individuals to find work in this increasingly competitive job market. While employers may want these individuals to succeed, their own unconscious bias prevents them from providing fair access to these sought after opportunities. The science states that regardless of who you are, you will potentially see the preferred candidate as someone who closer relates to you. It’s not even entirely based on identity, as even factors like one’s educational background or location can also generate biases.


How To Institute Blind Recruitment

Two people shaking hands

How do you establish blind recruitment? The process that has to be tailored to the position itself as well as looking at what the individual biases of the company could be. It takes some internal digging to see who is marginalized in the workplace community. Processes which conceal names, gender and other signifiers help, but none can fully disguise all identifiers. It’s important to even avoid age, educational background, location and even personal interests at the outset of the recruiting process. In the job application it’s important to eliminate anything that’s not gender neutral and to focus on required skills over years of experience. To ensure that the process is completely blind, a third-party recruitment agency would need to be in charge of the interview process to source for qualifications. They would set up a structured interview process through a thorough job analysis, therefore ensuring that all high and low-level criteria are made absolutely clear. Then a broker would lay out a number of structured questions and based off of the decisions that are extrapolated they would then hire the most qualified candidate.


What Those Against Blind Recruitment Say

Many employers are excited to pursue diversity in their corporate culture, but they believe that blind recruitment is too flawed to be utilized. Detractors believe that the whole process is rendered ineffective once the in-person interview is held; which is why a broker is recommended. Some also believe this to be problematic as third-party’s own particular bias could seep into the hiring process. The concept of avoiding social media is believed to be an issue as an increasing number of employers look to the social profiles of candidates to assess if they can conduct themselves in a presentable manner. This would cause the removal of a step that helps hiring managers remain more comfortable in the recruitment process. Some workplaces are actively looking for diverse candidates. Instituting a hiring process in which there are no signifiers makes it difficult to discover these candidates. Blind recruitment isn’t seen as something that’s necessarily negative to the workforce by detractors, but as something that is ineffective. 


What Those In Favour of Blind Recruitment Say

There are many proponents of the blind recruitment process, and this is increasing in the white collar job market. Companies like Deloitte, HSBC, BBC and even Google have implemented this and have reported success in discovering qualified candidates. Through this process, right from the get-go there will be an increased number of diverse applicants who will have the opportunity to get their foot in the door. Amongst other things, it removed the problematic notion of candidate’s names being a cause for not being considered - as studies state that even “whitening” the first name for Black individuals will result in more callbacks for interviews. By only focussing on skills, blind hiring has the ability to create the sought after diverse workforce. All employees who have the same abilities are provided with equal opportunity to fill the role. This widens the net of potential candidates that are available for the particular position. Blind recruitment creates the likelihood of finding a candidate who can fit the criteria better and even with the higher potential of discovering someone who can exceed the set expectations. The removal of unconscious bias will have the key benefit of improved diversity, as representation is something that needs to be explored more in the workplace. When focusing purely on skill there is the additional benefit of saving time. If the hiring manager focuses solely on qualifications they don’t have to sift through candidates who would not reach their criteria. 



A Case Study

The most notable story of blind recruitment was in 1952 when the Boston Symphony Orchestra instituted auditions where they couldn’t see who was performing. The musical ensemble had a disproportionate amount of male musicians and they thought rectifying this would lead to a stronger pedigree of potential candidates. There was a significant increase of women making the rounds to the final audition after this was implemented. It wasn’t that those in charge of finalizing candidates didn’t want women in their orchestra, they had realized their own unconscious bias towards the male performers. This demonstrates another case of people relying on familiarity over skills. This practice is instituted today in many orchestras to ensure they attain the strongest candidates regardless of their origin. 


Overall

The unconscious bias of hiring similar individuals is in no means malicious, but taking steps to overcome this will lead to a more diverse workplace. We are undoubtedly shifting towards hiring people of different backgrounds, paths and experiences, and blind recruitment is steering us closer to further inclusion. It may not be perfect, but it helps us reduce the unconscious bias that is a large part of the hiring process. Will instituting this practice have an impact on increasing diversity in the workforce? Absolutely. While we may not know for years how much of an impact, the end goal is seeing a more skilled and better represented workforce reflective of the country in which we live. 


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