What is Blind Hiring?

Having an inclusive and diverse workforce is becoming increasingly important. A 2020 Glassdoor study found that 76% of job seekers say workplace diversity is a major factor in deciding which jobs to apply for. As more businesses scramble to hire people from wider demographics, the question becomes how do we make hiring practices more inclusive?

Addressing Unconscious Bias in Hiring

On the surface, simply choosing to hire people who are not white, straight, cis-men with degrees from prominent schools should be simple enough. You would just...hire diverse candidates. But as it turns out the entire recruiting process is a bit more complicated than that. There are all sorts of built-in biases, for one. Some of them are very easy to spot (like only hiring graduates from Ivy League schools) and others are much more insidious that require a reworking of the entire recruitment strategy and process.

Unconscious bias is a real problem. Despite best intentions, interviewers and talent acquisition teams may unknowingly let their preconceived notions guide their decisions. Affinity and personal biases also come into play, where recruiters give an advantage to those with similar backgrounds and interests as themselves.

Blind Hiring: A Possible Solution

Blind hiring is one solution. A blind hiring process involves intentionally concealing personal details about candidates during the recruitment process. This aims to reduce unconscious bias, encouraging recruiters to assess candidates purely based on merit.

The Pros

Increase Diversity & Inclusion

Blind hiring was first used in the 1970s by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in an effort to diversify their almost entirely white male demographic. With auditions being held behind a curtain hiding the musicians from sight, it led to an increase of 25 - 45% more women hired.

A Harvard study found that those who ‘whitened’ their resumes by hiding any references to their race or ethnicity were twice as likely to be interviewed than those who did not. Recruitment software designed for blind screening can help eliminate unconscious bias in the initial resume screening steps, ensuring a greater diversity of candidates progress to the interview stage.

Minorities Who 'Whiten' Job Resumes Get More Interviews

Merit-based Testing

As blind recruiting is based on merit, the interview process usually includes a skills assessment. These give candidates a chance to actually show their skills and what they can do (in an environment hopefully similar as possible to the one they will actually be working in. Whiteboarding does no one any favors). Assessments tend to be popular among developers and many report a better overall candidate experience because of them. Relying on skill assessments can save a significant amount of time. And while there are all kinds of recruitment software that can implement blind hiring, there’s always the option of doing the process yourself by having team members look at anonymized assessments. If you want to read about how to create a good skills assessment, read more about that here.

Greater Awareness of Unconscious Bias

A beneficial side effect of going over your process and identifying which information should be hidden is that it leads to greater awareness of biases in general, and how seemingly innocuous information can influence a subconscious bias. It leads to a greater awareness of how something like relying on graduates from certain colleges excludes some of the best talent and may not actually lead to greater job performance.

While it’s generally believed that blind hiring processes will decrease biases in the hiring process and lead to greater workplace diversity this is not always the case. If your goal is to reduce bias and increase workforce diversity, read about insights from Webflow's Technical Recruiter on how they source and interview for diversity.

The Cons

Not Addressing the Root Problem

If your team has issues with bias, blind recruitment can only go so far as it often hides information only during the initial stages. Eventually, a candidate will be met face-to-face (or screen-to-screen). While blind recruitment leads to an initially more diverse pool of candidates, as soon as the information is revealed it often ends the same way, with biases coming into play at the last most critical stages of employment.

It’s also impossible to fully mask every identifying detail about a person. For example, women tend to talk about their achievements in an organization and their teamwork skills, while men tend to highlight individual skills and use more technical phrases. These are of course generalizations and in no way accurately represent entire groups, but word choice and language used give recruiting and talent acquisition teams an idea of who they think the candidate is - true or otherwise - and can then influence who they choose.

Hiding Information Can Sometimes Hurt

Hiding information about candidates can make it difficult for employers to make judgment calls in terms of work history. An employer would have no way of knowing a gap in employment was due to maternity leave, for example, with such information hidden. It also makes it difficult to hire based on emotional intelligence and if the person would be able to work well with the team. Some feel it gets in the way of both the employer and the candidate being able to candidly interview the other, the employer to see if they would be a good fit for the role, and the candidate to get a better idea of who they will be working with.

Assessments Can Deter Candidates

Blind hiring puts much of its weight into skills assessments. Many candidates will happily complete these as it gives them a chance to show off their skills instead of being filtered out at an early stage for living in the wrong area code. However, this is not the case for everyone. Some candidates refuse on principle to work for free, even if the work they do is rarely if ever used for anything other than showing off their skills with mock projects. For someone applying to multiple jobs, having to sink a good few hours into assessments on top of the time the rest of the interview processes already take can add up to a lengthy process with potentially very little payoff. However, this issue can be addressed with creating a good assessment depending on the candidate's level.

In some cases, companies seeking to increase their diversity are actively looking to hire more diverse candidates and are naturally more biased in favor of underrepresented groups. Adding in blind hiring practices can then lead to less diversity as they don’t know who to give advantage to until later stages when a significant portion of candidates has already been filtered out.

So What’s the Verdict on Blind Hiring?

While blind hiring may not always yield the desired results, it doesn't undermine its overall effectiveness. It's a valuable approach that has led to positive results in workforce diversity. What is important to remember is that blind hiring is treating the symptom of a much larger problem. It will not create an inclusive workforce all on its own. It is one tool that can be used for a positive outcome, but knowing where and when and how to apply it is going to differ in every case.

Strategic Approaches in Blind Hiring

To successfully use blind hiring it’s important to set achievable goals and keep in mind what you are actually trying to accomplish. This can mean deciding which information is hidden and which remains in plain sight. In some cases having initial blind screenings might be enough for one company while another might find more merit in keeping everything hidden until the very final stages. Blind hiring can only go so far. At some point candidates should feel their differences are not simply tolerated but have value on their own and are celebrated.

Addressing Bias

In some cases what is needed is a wider cultural audit of a company to find out if it is biased, and if so how might it be best mitigated. Bias training and awareness is a good place to start, but wider cultural change must be supported on all levels of management if it is to lead to any meaningful change.

Promoting Diversity in Hiring Panels

There’s less chance of bias if hiring decisions are made between a panel of people who will have to explain why or why not each candidate is suitable. This hiring panel should ideally be a diverse group of people themselves. Nothing is more discouraging than hearing a company talk about how diverse and inclusive it is and then seeing an all-white group across the interview table.

Beyond Hiring: Retention and Inclusion

Blind hiring alone will not create workforce diversity if candidates are being discriminated against in the final stages of hiring, or if those who are hired join a workforce with a homogenous culture and demographic. Is it really ethical to hire one woman of color from a small community college into an environment of all-white, straight men from Ivy League schools? What is there to support her or to ensure she has any mobility in her career? Recruitment is only half the battle. The rest is retention and making sure those who come have inclusive environments where their careers can thrive.