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Does blind recruitment really work?

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A blindfolded man trying to recruit new employees without knowing much about them. Does it work?

A powerful recent trend in recruitment practice is that of “blind recruitment”. In blind recruitment people deidentify recruitment communication from candidates such as covering emails and resumes through removing information such as people’s names or any reference to gender or ethnicity.

This has been trialled across the federal public service as well as commercial organisations such as Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Westpac.

Clearly what people are trying to do is to reduce the bias in the decision about whether to interview, in pursuit of a more balanced recruitment policy. But does it work?

The results are somewhat contradictory.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported a significant increase in the number of women hired through blind recruitment in a recent trial.

On the other hand a larger and more scientifically designed study – please see the link below – showed the opposite effect – a decrease in the number of women hired.

In fact the result was so marked that the trial was suspended for ethical reasons.

So what’s going on?

  • Human beings are prey to biases. There have been multiple studies which have shown that we are all affected by unconscious bias in making our decisions, but they are not limited to issues such as gender or ethnicity. Some people are biased towards certain educational backgrounds, the fact that people have worked for certain organisations, how choppy a person’s CV is, and a range of other issues.
  • Sooner or later somebody is going to have to meet these candidates and biases are likely to come into play at that stage. Of course the nature of the field that you will have available to recruit from will be different but the final decision will be affected by personal impression.
  • I suspect what’s really happening in the recent trial is that the recruitment decision-makers are actually biased towards hiring more women. We find that in our recruitment activities the vast majority of our clients currently place an extremely strong emphasis in seeking to address gender imbalance by hiring more women. In these circumstances blind recruitment will actually thwart the attempt to positively discriminate.

An alternative way of tackling this issue is to provide training on bias to recruitment managers to make them more aware of their own tendency to make biased decisions.

I think that this is the more effective way to go because there is strong research evidence to suggest that if people are trained in this way they will become less biased, not just about gender but about the range of other possible biases that people can adopt.

Then, whether you have gone the blind recruitment path or not people will be better able to make less biased decisions.

The human tendency to bias is one of the reasons why psychological assessment is shown to be one of the least biased methods of making recruitment decisions. After all, an online psych test does not care about your gender, age or ethnicity


Originally posted: July 4, 2017

Andrew Marty

Managing Director at SACS Consulting

Andrew is a qualified psychologist who has over 25 years of human resource management consulting experience, including extensive senior executive search and selection experience.

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