The practice of blind hiring is on the up-and-up as the realisation that unconscious bias is an inherent part of human nature. Combined with the push to do better in terms of discrimination, gender equality and equal access to career opportunities, companies are scrabbling to find ways to mitigate its effects in the era of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. But can blind hiring really improve workplace diversity? Maybe not. Now, before you get riled up, we do agree that blind hiring has a place in HR—it’s just not the place you think.
What is Blind Hiring?
Blind hiring is the removal of any personally-identifying information from applications by an employer. It encompasses age, educational background, years of experience, ethnicity, name, and gender. The practice has recently been implemented as part of a wider strategy to avoid the topical subject of unconscious bias, which has gained an increasing foothold in diversity recruiting strategies. Unconscious bias is an inherent aspect of the hiring process—as a recent body of research by the National Bureau of Economic Research has conducted, applicants with ethnic sounding names, on average, must send out 50% more CVs before they receive a response, as compared to their white counterparts. Therefore, attempts to identify, acknowledge and mitigate against effects that stem from being faced with characteristics that differ from social ‘norms’ is essential. After all, equal opportunity is the aim of the game and so efforts to looking past the assumptions and limitations associated with your biases it is both morally obliged… and essential, at least from the viewpoint of the business bottom line.
This practice is dually profitable for companies—they avoid the stigma of being an exclusionary company, and they bolster the bottom line. After all, a workforce that resembles the customer base more accurately allows the benefits of diversity to play out—from a practical perspective whereby a cohesive work environment is achieved to less obvious benefits, like the realisation of innovative solutions to business demands.
A Brief History on the Practice of Blind Hiring in Diversity Recruiting
But this practice has a notable history—beginning in 1952 with an unlikely inceptor—the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Given the context (disproportionately white male musicians) their choice to employ the practice makes sense. They aimed to diversify by focussing purely on the candidates' performance by having musicians audition behind a curtain. Following accusations of racial bias, the New York Philharmonic and others soon followed suit. A follow-up study by researchers at Harvard and Princeton found that blind hiring practices increased the likelihood of women being hired between 25 and 45% for orchestras.
Blind hiring has been embraced by giants such as Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Clifford Chance through to smaller players such as the cloud-storage firm Compose Inc. Clifford Chance leveraged blind hiring to neutralise any bias they had towards Oxbridge graduates. As implied, CC decide against including applicant’ The principle behind the practice is simple—companies seek to find the person who is best suited for a particular job, without considering the person behind the skills, at least initially.
And therein lies the first potential shortcoming.
Blind Hiring — An Imperfect Science
The practice of blind hiring is, at least from the offset, positive. But it’s certainly not without its shortcomings. What happens when the candidates walk through the door? At this point, there is no way to mask a candidate's name, gender or ethnicity. So whilst blind screening works to build a relatively diverse pool of first-round interviewees, companies find themselves back at square one with the same hiring diversity challenges.
A secondary issue is the tendency to hire for culture fit rather than culture add. The hyper-focus on hiring candidates that share similar attitudes, beliefs, and experiences leads to the inevitable—a new cohort of background-compatible colleagues that cement a homogeneous culture that still falls short of cultivating the diverse vibe you sought in the first place.
To consider the effect of blind hiring it’s probably best to consider a technical aspect of hiring: the recruitment funnel. As a brief 101:
- Employer Marketing: The brand is the face of the company and instrumental in building awareness. And underpinning it is that crucial EVP—what your company can deliver to employees in return for their commitment.
- Attraction: Recruiting demands that you play the long game. Companies leverage the power of social channels to draw in both passive and active candidates. And social media is a goldmine for companies in the age of the internet, the playground for Gen Z and Millenials alike.
- Candidate Engagement: This is the stage that begins the candidate experience process, with the hopes that interest & applications soon follows.
- Candidate Selection: At this point, candidates are in the game and now employers have the opportunity to interview and hire. Determining the culture fit is essential at this stage.
- Insights: Once a hire is made, the future of recruiting depends on leveraging insights gathered by employees—all ending up as employee advocacy.
A cornerstone of the funnel is candidate engagement; it is the stage that cements the candidate experience, with the hopes that a blossoming relationship between your company and prospective applicants builds the interest and intent … with applications not far behind.
So where does blind hiring operate along the funnel? It turns out that blind hiring has the biggest impact a lot further down the funnel—at the stage of candidate selection.
And this is where most organisations fail when it comes to blind hiring processes in your diversity recruiting strategy. The implementation of blind hiring is futile if you can’t deliver stages one to three—that is, building awareness, attraction and encouraging application. If your diverse candidates aren’t getting through these stages, then the relevance of blind hiring is reduced to nothing.
Why Blind Hiring Isn’t Making Your Workforce More Diverse
While the process of blind selection can work in other contexts—like dating reality TV shows—it’s a little more complicated in the world of talent attraction. For one, reality TV shows don’t have to worry about building awareness, attracting on-screen talent and encouraging them to apply for the show. Applications are received in the thousands! Blind hiring falls flat on its face, if candidates aren’t applying in the first place.
Indeed, when we conducted our own research into why diversity recruiting strategies are failing to make their mark, our survey of 200 talent attraction (TA) and employer branding (EB) leaders, revealed that 57% believed that candidates were lost after visiting the website and before applying. So you see, the use of blind hiring, which occurs at the stage of candidate selection, becomes moot if there aren’t any diverse applicants.
How You Can Convert Diverse Candidates into Applicants Using Storytelling Instead
In the real world, a stellar recruitment strategy starts from the earliest possible point along the recruitment funnel. With so much of diverse talent attraction happening further upstream of where blind hiring practices come into play, how can you make a bigger impact on growing your diverse workforce.
A strong employer brand features employee advocacy to reel in candidates. By sharing relatable stories, you create an inviting experience that makes job seekers feel more welcome. Today, HR teams are building collaborative cross-company partnerships in order to create internal ambassadors that help attract top talent. This collective effort is also working to bring in more diverse talent.
By upscaling your employee advocacy and putting a well-told narrative at the centre of their delivery, you can unite your EVP with your talent attraction goals—and specifically provide diverse candidates with exactly the information they need to feel assured that you’re serious about diversity recruiting.
How PathMotion Clients are Expanding Their Talent Pool Using Storytelling
With all this talk about how storytelling can trump blind hiring in your company’s diversity hiring initiatives, it’s only fair to provide you with some tangible proof. And there is no better evidence of the power of storytelling to attract talent than by looking at how multinationals have seen their hiring efforts scale.
As we discovered in our most recent research initiative, a stark content and persuasion gap exists on your company website. When the only content you are providing is heavily reliant on generalisation, stock photography and clichés, you communicate a ‘command and control’ as opposed to collaborative workplace environment. And Millennials and Generation Z alike don’t buy the hype. Actions speak louder than words. They seek highly specific content and not disingenuous rhetoric.
But you can skirt this problem entirely — by switching the traditional top-down approach to providing information to one that is bottom up. That is, by ensuring your content is candidate-driven. And that means allowing them to take the driving seat. The success of doing so has been see by the likes of Lazard.
Candidates often seek verification of their eligibility. In one of many discussions generated on Lazard's PathMotion platform, one candidate asks about their eligibility for entry into the program that Lazard offers; associated discussions that center on this topic including - whether or not recent graduates are welcome, overseas students, and those without relevant internship experiences are also common. And they garner a lot of attention as evidenced from the number of views.
Another cause of concern — is a candidate's skill set applicable to any available positions? These concerns may be voiced by ex-military and veterans. In the case of candidates on the Citi platform, a candidate asks about off-cycle internships for bachelors students.
And a final example of candidate driven questions? those pertaining to the work environment. Candidates of diverse backgrounds are concerned about the support made available to them in their workplace. For example, women wonder whether networks exist for them, and members of the LGBTQ+ community ask about the openness of fellow community members in the workplace. In a similar vein, in a discussion featured on the Mars UK website, a concerned candidate asks about whether there is real substance behind their apparent push for diversity and inclusion.
The answers that are given by employees that have first-hand experiences with the proposed benefits outlined in the EVP are the most persuasive element of any diversity recruiting strategy. In today’s market, the most difficult problem with respect to diverse talent sourcing - particularly in niche sectors such as technology and engineering is engagement. Tools that produce a list of prospective leads or AI driven software that automate outreach are just a small piece of the puzzle. The biggest challenge when it comes to corporate diversity strategy is attracting diverse talent.How can you get a wider pool of talent to engage with your company’s employer brand initiatives?
Through storytelling, not blind hiring.
It is worth noting that, while content may be king in the competition for diverse talent—we’ve seen in our research that a persuasion gap also exists. No matter how well-targeted the information given is, if it’s not communicated in an authentic way, diverse candidates will see through it. Storytelling, by real employees, is key to persuading candidates of all backgrounds to apply.
Is Blind Hiring the Be-All, End-All?
Blind hiring certainly has its place in the candidate funnel. At present, companies are not syncing their funnel stage with the initiatives outlined in their diversity recruiting strategies. Blind hiring is undoubtedly useful at a later stage of candidate selection, but true impact to diversity recruiting is made at the beginning. When building your employer brand and EVP to source diverse talent, storytelling is the golden goose. It generates both the specific content candidates are seeking and the persuasion that is lacking in the generic corporate content on the careers site.
We’ve broken down the power of storytelling in our eBook. Our neuroscience-backed research gives the low-down on how storytelling can immerse job candidates and bolster your diversity recruiting strategies.