Organizations all over the world are increasingly being faced with a need to adapt, adjust, and proactively aim toward having more diverse, inclusive workforces. This pressure is coming from external sources, with service-oriented companies serving increasingly diverse customer bases. It is also coming from internal sources, with business leaders progressively realizing that in a rapidly changing workforce, diversity and inclusion are a business imperative that has real implications for the bottom line. This problem is not new; we have seen organizations spending millions of dollars on pricey diversity initiatives for years. But we also continue to see the stagnant, disappointing numbers that prompted that spending in the first place. Women and minorities have made slow and in some cases no progress in leadership representation or pay equity. And high-cost diversity programs and efforts have sometimes backfired, leading to unequal treatment even when the goal is measureable workforce equity.
Clearly something needs to be done differently when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but a new direction can be difficult and risky to pursue. Some organizations have turned to blind, or anonymous hiring practices, taking a page from the book of orchestra auditions that research has shown are more equitable when selection committees are not aware of aspiring musicians’ gender. In these organizations at some stage in the job application and hiring process, identifying information like candidate name, education, and other data that might provide a clue to the person’s demographic characteristics are removed. This is meant to eliminate implicit human biases that can impede a candidate’s chances of being selected for a role even if they are fully qualified for the position. If you, the hiring manager, can’t see anything about a candidate except for their qualifications, then you’ll use only qualifications as the basis for your decision, and not other things like your implicit expectations around who should fill the role.
In reality evidence for the effectiveness of this practice has been mixed. In the absence of identifying information, selection committees for the orchestra found other gender-identifying information to latch onto, and this influenced their hiring decisions in the same way that revealing names and genders of the people auditioning would have. Removing identifying information is both tricky and very different from traditional approaches, so many organizations have opted for processes more congruent with how they traditionally view recruiting and hiring (for instance, engaging in the same processes as before, but mandating that a certain percentage of job applicants or even hires be from diverse demographic groups). But perhaps the greatest argument for the ineffectiveness of anonymous recruiting practices is that they touch only the beginning of the employee lifecycle—providing greater equity in access into a company does not ensure equity, fair treatment, and access to opportunities once in that company.
Interviewing for a job is actually not the only selection experience employees will have in your organization. They are going to be selected for certain job assignments, developmental activities, monetary rewards and non-monetary recognition, and higher-level positions many times. These decisions are made every single day, and most often they are made by immediate managers whose implicit biases may remain unchecked. Why should the hiring process be anonymous when these equally impactful processes are frequently made based on impressions of a person rather than their qualifications?
An innovative practice intended to build diversity, inclusion, and equity in access to career-building opportunities would be for organizations to institute anonymous selection practices throughout the time people work for the company. Determining who should receive certain opportunities and promotions would be done by matching up qualifications, skills and capabilities with those that are required. Once a selection decision is made, the identity of the person selected would be revealed, and managers may find it’s someone wildly different than they would have chosen using traditional processes.
With a little bit of effort and creativity from managers and HR departments, this could actually be a reality today. But it’s not the practical aspects that have stopped us from adopting this approach. If the idea of handing over complete control of the decision-making process makes you a little uncomfortable, you are not alone. This represents an enormous departure from how we typically make talent decisions.
Still, perhaps a complete departure from how we’ve traditionally done things is exactly what we need to drive real change in this area. While completely anonymous decision-making is not likely to get widespread adoption immediately, business leaders and managers may consider trying it out on their own as they make their talent decisions. What are the key qualifications, skills, and capabilities they want someone to have in order to gain access to a developmental experience or higher-level role? Ignoring or hiding information that would reveal personal characteristics, who on their team has them? They may be surprised by what they find.
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And be sure to check out the Defining Moments blog series to learn about the perspectives of forward-thinking business leaders changing the conversation around diversity and inclusion.