A Recruiting Utopia: How to design a recruiting process that removes all unconscious bias

Removing unconscious bias in the hiring process may seem like a buzzword but it is far from a new challenge. In 2000, two women – one a professor of economics at Harvard University, the other an associate professor in public and international affairs and the economics department of Princeton University – completed a study on the effects of blind orchestra auditions for women. For decades, conductors of large symphony orchestras asserted that female musicians had “smaller techniques” that were unsuitable.

The study looked at data from audition records from the 70’s and found that blind auditions, which started to come into more common practice in the 90’s, increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. Other findings, as published by the Harvard Gender Action Portal:

  • Using a screen to conceal candidates from the jury during preliminary auditions increased the likelihood that a female musician would advance to the next round by 11 percentage points. During the final round, “blind” auditions increased the likelihood of female musicians being selected by 30%.
  • According to analysis using roster data, the transition to blind auditions from 1970 to the 1990’s can explain 30 percent of the increase in the proportion female among new hires and possibly 25 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras.
  • In short, “blind” auditions significantly reduced gender-biased hiring and the gender gap in symphony orchestra compositions.

The business world isn’t likely to start conducting interviews behind a screen anytime soon but as more and more companies seek a diverse workforce in an inclusive workplace, addressing varying forms of unconscious bias in recruiting and hiring is requiring some innovative approaches. This spring a gathering of nearly 50 talent acquisition professionals at the CareerXroads Recruiting Automation and Innovation Colloquium, took on the challenge in creative ways.

How to create a recruiting utopia

Our challenge? Making the same blind audition presented in the orchestra study possible for any job, at any company, at any time. Yes, it might be utopia but the group spent an hour brainstorming how they might make that utopia a little closer to reality. Some of the scenarios that follow are fairly realistic and could be accomplished in at least a limited fashion in the near future. Others are a bit Orwellian but let’s suspend judgment and consider a world where there is no possibility for unconscious bias in the hiring process…

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