Blind recruitment gaining traction as way to control unconscious bias

Blind recruitment is more common overseas, but its beginning to be adopted in New Zealand.
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Blind recruitment is more common overseas, but its beginning to be adopted in New Zealand.

A new recruitment practice is emerging in New Zealand as a way to control unconscious bias in the hiring process.

Unconscious assumptions and stereotypes of people affect everyone and is blamed in part for the lack of diversity in organisations and for why the gender pay gap persists.

But the practice of blind recruitment is gaining traction as a way for diversity-conscious companies to try and lessen the effect of bias on job candidates.

PwC partner David Lamb says the calibre of talent found using blind recruitment for the graduate programme was outstanding.
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PwC partner David Lamb says the calibre of talent found using blind recruitment for the graduate programme was outstanding.

PwC introduced an "anonymous" application process in March this year for its graduate and summer internship programme.

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Anything that might prejudice the recruitment team for or against applicants was removed from applications, including names, any indicators of gender and names of schools.

Sharon Davies has been using her own version of blind recruitment in her company, Talent Propeller, for about a year.
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Sharon Davies has been using her own version of blind recruitment in her company, Talent Propeller, for about a year.

From more than 1600 applications, 200 offers were made countrywide with a 50-50 ratio of males to females for the graduate programme and 60-40 ratio for the summer internship.

PwC people and culture lead partner David Lamb says there was a lift in the number of women who were offered jobs as a result of the blind process.

While there are no plans to roll the blind recruitment strategy out wider, the company is using the method again for next year's graduate recruitment, he said.

Sharon Davies is the managing director of recruitment firm Talent Propeller and says blind recruitment is a fairly new concept in New Zealand, but far more established overseas.

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In 1980 the Toronto Symphony Orchestra started auditioning its musicians blindly by putting them behind a screen, allowing the hiring panel to hear only the musical performance.

The orchestra was made up almost entirely of men in the 1970s and through the blind audition process, it was now made up of almost half females and was more ethnically diverse.

In October last year then-British prime minister David Cameron promised to end discrimination in workplaces by signing up some of the United Kingdom's top employers, including the BBC and National Health Service, to name-blind graduate applications.

Davies thinks blind recruitment will grow in popularity and each organisation may adapt the process to suit.

Her own company, for example, tests an applicant's skills and abilities first before looking at the CV. 

"For us it's around keeping an open mind around who actually might be that talent you're looking for and taking the blinkers off. You can get so caught up in a pattern of just looking at the CV and making assumptions based on what a piece of paper is telling you."

Others may go down the same route as PwC and remove names, age and indicators of gender at the initial stage of the process.

Davies says there is huge potential for this recruiting method to increase diversity in companies.

"There is a big awareness and desire for diversity in the workplace and that's the first step. We see businesses wanting to balance achieving that goal of diversity, but also having the right person in the role who can perform."

The latest data from job finding website Seek confirms the traditional ideas about male and female roles still hold true: men are more likely to work in construction, ICT, engineering, sales or be self-employed, while women are more likely to be in administration, education, healthcare and hospitality.

There are more men in senior and executive positions, but more women in junior roles.

But research shows that diverse workforces are better and more profitable.

In 2012 business professors Cristian Deszo​ from the University of Maryland and David Ross from Columbia University studied the effect of gender diversity on the top companies on Standard & Poor's Composite 1500 list, which is designed to reflect the overall equity market in the united States.

They found having women in top management boosted a company's financial returns and companies that prioritised innovation saw more financial gains when women were in the top leadership ranks.

Also in 2012 researchers from the Credit Suisse Research Institute looked at 2360 global companies and found firms with one or more women on the board had higher returns on equity, lower net debt to equity and better growth.

Keren Phillips is a co-founder of recruitment software firm Weirdly and says there is no single answer to controlling unconscious bias in the recruitment process, with blind recruitment just one solution.

Other methods could include using text analysis to uncover unconscious bias in job advertising, changing processes to be inclusive of different kinds of people (a lot of recruitment processes are heavily biased towards extroverts) and introducing other team members outside of the executive team into the interview process. 

She says the old test that recruiters do where they ask themselves whether they could spend 12 hours stuck in an airport with someone was on its way out.

"On the surface it sounds like a great logical way [to recruit], but in actual fact it just means people are recruiting people like them. It's a recipe for creating companies with very poor diversity."

 

 - Stuff

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