In 1980 just ten percent of players in top orchestras were women. Today that figure is approaching 30 percent. What changed? Did women suddenly become better musicians? Did someone administer some sort of game changing diversity training?

Nope, orchestras just made one tiny change to how they hired. Prospective players started giving auditions from behind a screen, so that those judging them had no idea of their appearance or gender.

"Even when the screen is only used for the preliminary round, it has a powerful impact; researchers have determined that this step alone makes it 50% more likely that a woman will advance to the finals. And the screen has also been demonstrated to be the source of a surge in the number of women being offered positions," reports the UK's Guardian newspaper.

What's the business equivalent of the blind audition?

Bravo for the music community, but what does this have to do with you? It's not like you could stick a prospective new sales rep behind a screen -- chances are great that you'd know their gender as soon as they opened their mouth to answer you first question.

Yet hiring managers have been shown to display as much unconscious bias as orchestra juries. For instance, one recent study showed that female coders were ranked as more competent by their peers -- unless those peers knew they were women. So hiring managers, especially those looking to fill technical roles remain in need of the business equivalent of the blind audition. What could it be? 

On Quartz recently PowerToFly president Katharine Zaleski offered an intriguing answer to this question: how about virtual reality? "Here's how a gender-blind interview process might work. As a hiring manager, I'd get a list of candidates who'd already been vetted for their skills through code reviews. These candidates would only be identifiable to me by their avatar names," she explains.

"I'd invite the candidates, in the form of avatars, to sit with me for an interview where we would view each other in the same virtual space through our headsets. A candidate could choose to project any avatar they chose. Some women might opt for women avatars; others might choose to appear as men or in other forms altogether. Some men might want to look like aliens," elaborated Zaleski. "The important thing would be that I could see the job candidates as they chose to be viewed. That's better than me projecting my own views on them."

Someone in HR would have access to candidates' real names, of course, for background or reference checks but they wouldn't be provided to the hiring manager unless the candidate advanced to that stage.

It's an approach PowerToFly has been experimenting with, Zaleski concludes, and she claims that so far she's seen a promising uptick in the number of women being hired.

Would you be interested in trying this approach yourself?

Published on: Mar 14, 2016
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