"Raise your hand if you've judged a candidate based on the college on their résumé," says Kelly Grossart, recruiting manager for Evernote. She's standing before a crowd of attentive employees at the startup's Redwood City, California, headquarters, leading an interactive training session on implicit bias. And when only half the group sheepishly raise their hands in response to Grossart's request, she exhales loudly and asks, "Are you guys serious?"
No one wants to admit they're anything less than objective, of course--which is what makes implicit or hidden bias so hard to stamp out. "Research shows that we find people more persuasive when we like them, and the most common reason we like them is they're similar to us," says Cade Massey, a professor who studies behavior and judgment at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
But your subconscious assumptions could be hampering your company's bottom line, leading you to overlook great candidates, take longer to fill openings, and build a less-than-stellar team. Studies show that the most racially diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35 percent, while companies with the greatest gender diversity boost their performance by 15 percent. Teams with diverse backgrounds also tend to generate more innovative ideas.
Now there are a number of new recruitment websites, tech platforms, and services that can help you push past implicit bias. Depending on the tool, résumés can be scrubbed clean of certain details, like names, which often signal race and gender, and colleges, which can indicate socioeconomic background. Voice modulation software can also be used to make it impossible to discern the gender of the person on the other end of a phone interview. And computer-based skills tests mean the first thing you see about an applicant isn't a laundry list of companies she's worked for, but an objective assessment of how well she'd probably perform on the job.
Companies including Google, Dolby, and Wieden+Kennedy are deliberately putting on opaque glasses to find talent they otherwise might never have considered. All three use GapJumpers, a recruitment platform where candidates perform skills-based challenges specifically tailored to an open position. "We want to shift the focus from the person to the output," says Petar Vujosevic, co-founder of GapJumpers. When the company crunched the data on 1,200 blind auditions performed for its clients, it found that its method increased the proportion of qualified candidates who are not white, male, and from "elite" schools from about 20 to 60 percent.
Harry Robertson, co-founder of mobile app marketer Liftoff, started using blind recruitment in 2015 to, among other things, combat homogeneity creep in his engineering team. "Early on, we grew mostly through employee networks and referrals, but that means a lot of the hires look like the current team," he says. Almost all of his 20 employees had been at a major Silicon Valley tech firm. "I wanted us to cast a wider net and avoid groupthink," he says.
Since embracing these tools, Liftoff has made two engineering hires, neither of whom had clocked time in Silicon Valley before. "There's huge competition here, which increases our hiring costs," says Robertson. "Blind recruitment lets us see diamonds in the rough that other companies might overlook."
Are you biased?
Consider these sobering stats and see if any hold true for you:
- Pedigree: For a 2016 study of law firm hiring bias, a male's résumé that subtly signaled privilege--sailing and classical music as hobbies--received nearly four times as many callbacks as ones that didn't. Source: American Sociological Review
- Gender: In one study, two identical résumés with different names were sent in for a lab manager position. "Jennifer" was rated as less competent than "John," and hiring managers recommended paying her, on average, $4,000--13 percent--less than John. Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
- Voice: Women, more than men, are penalized by hiring managers for vocal fry. One study found that young women with creaky voices were judged as "less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable." Source: Plos One
- Race: In a landmark study, researchers sent identical résumés for one position. Those with African American-sounding names--Jamal Jones, Lakisha Washington--were only half as likely to receive a callback as those with white-sounding names, like Emily Walsh or Greg Baker. Source: The American Economic Review
- Age: For a 2016 study, participants were told about two equally qualified candidates, one of whom had strengths that signaled youth and the other, maturity. Seventy percent of participants preferred to hire the young candidate. Source: Journal of Social Issues
Which blind recruitment tool makes sense for you?
- Blendoor: Like a mash-up of LinkedIn and Tinder, Blendoor scrubs professional profiles of identifying details (photos, names, graduation years) and presents them to recruiters. It recently built a feature allowing employers to anonymize all candidate profiles, regardless of whether they originated through the site. More than 400 companies--including Facebook, Twitter, and Google--have signed on.
- Interviewing.io Engineers flock here to flaunt their skills with live technical interviews. The site sends invites to strong performers, who are invited to do anonymous technical phone screeners. Roughly 60 percent of candidates advance to onsite interviews with clients that include Uber, Twitch, and Asana.
- GapJumpers Skewing to more technical positions, the recruiting platform creates a timed skills challenge tailored to each position, and then puts anonymous candidates through the paces. Those with the best scores advance to interviews.
- Textio This Seattle-based startup, which counts Cisco and Microsoft as clients, has a laser focus on using data to help companies write job descriptions that avoid inadvertently turning off certain applicants. For example, ads with "rock star" can draw a disproportionate number of male candidates, while corporate jargon like "synergy" and "push the envelope" can turn off people of color more often than others. "To fill roles quickly with qualified candidates, you perform better if you reach the whole population," says co-founder Kieran Snyder.