Every office would like to think that they’re a diverse, all-inclusive and hyper-harmonious workplace. The kind of environment where it wouldn’t matter if you were a purple martian; as long as you had the required skill-set and aced the interview, the job could potentially be yours.
Whilst there is British law against discrimination, other factors such as interviewer bias can be a blockade in the hiring process for those of a minority. In turn this creates a less diverse office space.
Diversity is important in any business. It breeds innovation, creativity and profitability.
Think about it. If you’ve got a room of six middle class and highly educated white males all solving the same problem, they’re all more likely to come at it from the same angle, right? How boring, how predictable and how un-diverse. If you have a room of six people of different genders, ages, races and educational backgrounds, the opinions will be more eclectic. The result will hopefully be better. As Gina Grillo in the Guardian put it:
“Corporate boardrooms and teams of like-minded thinkers that can act quickly but lack diversity of perspectives, opinions and backgrounds do not always get the best results. While there’s a sense of satisfaction when everyone agrees, there’s a great deal to be said for diversity of thought and a dash of constructive conflict”.
What is bias?
Whether it’s one on one or in groups, speaking in person with your potential new hire is now common practice when hiring an employee. Unfortunately for the candidates studies show that interviewer bias still takes place.
“Researchers have suggested that as a result of interviews being a personal exchange between people, there is huge room for social factors – that are not related to the candidate’s ability to do the job – to unintentionally influence the evaluation of that candidate and subsequent hiring decision.”
Bias splits into two forms: implicit and explicit. Implicit bias is “the judgement and/or behaviour that results from subtle cognitive processes that often operate at a level below conscious awareness”. Implicit bias is a deep-seated subconsciousness that we have little to no control over and we’re unaware of how it affects our decision quality.
Explicit bias is a conscious level of thought. You are aware that you don’t like Chinese people or that you don’t like gay people or you don’t think women make good managers. Both implicit and explicit bias have an effect on hiring processes.
A study by the Psychology of Women Quarterly found that when women were interviewed by men who claim to have no bias toward gender and support equality (thus, so have no explicit bias), they actually perform worse.
We can’t judge whether an interviewer is implicitly or explicitly displaying bias, however, the study found that:
“When dealing with interviewers who showed a high implicit bias, yet said they believe women are competent leaders at work, the women were likely thrown off by nonverbal cues. For instance, while the male interviewers may have said encouraging things, their body language or facial expressions may have conveyed boredom or disinterest.
What if we were to remove bias completely from the the interview process? Would women perform better and would this create a more diverse workplace for some industries?
In the 1950’s orchestras – often made up of around 100 people – were only 5% female. To counteract this, the concept of a blind audition was set up. People auditioned for the orchestra behind a screen, with women even removing their shoes before entering the room so interviewers weren’t biased according to footstep noise.
The step of installing a physical appearance barrier that eliminates potential interviewer bias in orchestral selections increased women’s chances of reaching the final stages by 50%. The method was used consistently and women’s presence in orchestras was up to 30% by the late 1990’s.
Whilst placing a screen between an interviewer and interviewee isn’t a method that could be replicated in many workplace environments, there is a more technical way to decrease the chances of bias and promote hiring diversity.
Before gaining an interview, the all-important CV is sent in for consideration. To help employers and recruiters filter through their hefty selection, US company GapJumpers created software that masks certain CV credentials that could potentially give way to implicit or explicit bias. These include ethnicity, gender, age and education. This gives candidates a ‘blind audition’ for a job.
Founded by three friends whose careers had faltered due to “implicit biases associated with résumé screening”, GapJumpers is now used by big names such as Mozilla and Dolby. Founder Petar Vujosevic says:
“We are able to do blind auditions for software engineering roles, design roles, marketing roles, communication roles and allow candidates that might on paper not be a good fit, prove that they actually are.”
Recent analysis by GapJumpers found that from 1,200 blind auditions, 58% of women were selected to interview and 68% of hires were women, which proves that blind auditions can work. And whilst the statistics are female lead, the theory behind blind interviewing could also benefit other minorities.
It may be some time before blind interviewing becomes the technique used by more companies. The idea that there’s a method to enable better diversity in the workplace – and in turn make businesses more profitable – is a promising one.