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Breaking The Bias


As companies seek new competitive advantage and pursue the “best talent”, they adopt numerous diversity practices in attempts to make themselves attractive to the widest possible array of candidates, as “diverse” and “forward-thinking.”  Many changes in recruiting processes (seemingly foolproof blind interviews and mandatory diversity training sessions) would seem to reduce unconscious bias in hiring practices.  Ironically, even with the abundance of diversity practices, companies still struggle to proportionately represent women and minorities. 

According to reputable professors, Marianna Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, in a paper from the University of Chicago, names that sound “White” receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than names sounding African-American as a result of discriminatory assumptions by the resume screener.  In response to this vast gap, employers removed applicant names from resumes before screening their contents.  This practice, commonly known as “blind screening” is effective in the initial stages of hiring for it provides exposure to all resumes. However, the benefits do not extend much further than exposing the resumes.


In order to more effectively eliminate bias from the hiring processes, employers are removing more “bias triggers” from applicant resumes.  For example, they are beginning to remove certain, if not all, interests.  For example, as a byproduct of outdated stereotypes, some activities such as fashion and dance may be perceived as more feminine than activities such as hiking and camping.  Moreover, some companies are beginning to remove education and prior employer names in fear that it may create undue bias.   


But as resumes are “cleansed” of potential triggers, and extensive resume screening further popularizes, a new problem arises: bland, indistinguishable resumes.  For example, as a consequence of the screening process, the hypothetical “Founder of Nail Polish Inc.” would be presented as an “Entrepreneur.”  Similarly, the hypothetical “Founder of Camping Supplies and More” would also be presented as an “Entrepreneur.”  Although both founders would be viewed without bias, neither application would acknowledge the two very different experiences of the candidates.  In consequence, the bland resumes would fail to be reliable indicators of the discrete background and experience of the specific applicants.


Resumes are a staple of the interview process and are now being edited so that they remove potential bias-inducing elements – BUT by definition, this makes them less indicative of candidate capabilities.  Moreover, employers cannot rely solely on interviews due to the potential presence of unconscious bias.  Rather than requiring candidates to submit resumes and participate in in-person interviews, employers might consider testing them with tasks to be performed on a regular basis.  Some companies, such as the Venture Beat, have taken on this practice and have their candidates perform blind “coding challenges” as part of the hiring process. This method of interviewing is ideal for the candidates as it allows them to be assessed only on their work product from the challenge.


In order to entirely eliminate any potential bias, employers should take on more balanced approaches to these new hiring practices.  For example, employers can create simulations of day-to-day tasks for available positions in order to better assess the full capabilities of candidates. Not only will this practice be fairer to the employees, but it also may help employers pick more qualified candidates.


… on how to manage the interview process (as a candidate OR as an employer), please contact us here at TTI.  We will be more than happy to help you.

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