Turning a Blind Eye to Hiring a Good Idea

By Sarah Fister Gale

Sep. 30, 2016

It is frustrating that in 2016, statistics still show an all-too-prevalent problem of bias in hiring.

Business leaders publicly tout their diversity in hiring quotas,
leadership programs and use of structured interviewing techniques, yet figures show that white males still get most of the jobs. This is especially true in Silicon Valley where despite all the talk about innovation and inclusion, studies show leading technology companies are among the worst offenders, vastly under-employing already underrepresented employee groups. On average, women account for only 30 percent of the entire tech industry, while even fewer are Latino (8 percent) or African-American (7 percent).

AdobeStock_11913883_300x200Part of the problem is that while no one thinks they are biased, everyone has biases, said Kelli Dragovich, senior vice president of people at Hired Inc. in Silicon Valley. And because it is nearly impossible to prove that an individual didn’t get a job because of the color of their skin, or the fact that they have a uterus, it’s hard to hold people accountable when they give into that knee-jerk desire to hire people who look like them.

Since it appears that hiring managers cannot be trusted to make unbiased hiring decisions, technology firms have come up with a solution: blind auditions. Companies like Hired, GapJumpers, and HackerRank hide candidate’s names, pictures and other features forcing companies to make decisions based on their actual qualifications and performance.

Petar Vujosevic, co-founder of GapJumpers in London, says his company’s approach is based on how orchestras began hiring in the late 1970s. Like the rest of the working world, orchestras were predominantly male until their leaders began having players audition behind screens just to see what would happen. By the mid-1980s the ratio of female musicians rose from 5 percent to 10 percent, and by the end of the decade one in four professional musicians were women.

“It showed them their own unconscious bias, and it changed the orchestra community,” Vujosevic said. Now GapJumpers is trying to do the same thing in the tech industry. Candidates on the site complete audition challenges, and the platform provides clients with anonymous scorecards ranking applicants according to their results rather than keywords on a resume. “It short-circuits the unconscious bias in the process,” said Vujosevic.

GapJumpers clients report seeing a lot more diversity in their application pool — not just in gender and race, but also where applicants come from, and what types of schools they attended, Vujosevic said.

The site is also helping to disprove common bias-based stereotypes. For example, while many industry members like to claim that the lack of women in tech is due to low application numbers, GapJumpers has found equal number of men and women doing blind auditions.

Hired offers a similar feature — though it is optional — in which the site hides the names and pictures of candidates to make the selection process as objective as possible.

“We added the feature because employers want to get better at addressing unconscious bias in hiring,” she said. Though she noted that it doesn’t solve the whole problem. Eventually these candidates will be sitting in interviews and being judged by recruiters, she noted. “You have to look at all of your hiring practices to make sure they are consistent.”

Using blind auditions to assemble a promising first list of candidates is a great start, but then recruiters need training on structured interview techniques, and they need to be held accountable. “Asking the same questions forces interviewers to treat every candidate in the same way,” she said. “It takes the subjectivity out of the decision.”

It can also prove to recruiters that their decisions are based on quality not perception, regardless of who they hire. Vujosevic noted that in many cases, the final hire might be a white guy. This process isn’t about hiring people of color or different genders, it’s about choosing the absolute best person for the job, whether that candidate is a white male with an ivy league education, or a woman who went to community college. “You shouldn’t feel bad if the process works,” he said. “The outcome may be the same, but the way you got there is different, and that’s what is most important.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in the Chicago area. Comment below or email

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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