At Science of Us, Drake Baer highlights some interesting new research into how signals of social class disclosed on resumes may have an impact on hiring. In the study, professors Lauren Rivera and András Tilcsik sent out job applications to 316 top law firms, each of which received an application randomized by gender and social-class background. Social class backgrounds were indicated with several signals, including last name (“Cabot” vs. “Clark”), extracurricular activities, and hobbies and interests. The responses they received were surprising:
Those 316 applications led to 22 interview invitations, good for a 6.96 percent callback rate. (This, the authors note, is consistent with previous studies on white-collar jobs and expectations for applicants who were at the top of their class but didn’t go to super-élite schools.) What was bananas, however, is how that rate skewed by gender: the lower-class male got just one callback, the lower-class female five, the higher-class woman three, and the higher-class man thirteen. That means the blue-blooded James had a 16.25 callback rate, while his nearly identical siblings had a paltry 3.83 callback percentage.
“Coming from a higher-class background only helps men,” Rivera tells Science of Us. “Given my prior research, we thought that social class background would lift all those people regardless of gender, and that was not the case.”
Name-blind hiring is an increasingly popular method organizations are using to combat the influence of unconscious bias on their recruiting processes, whether by simply redacting candidates’ names in the early stages of recruitment or by throwing out the traditional resume-and-interview ritual and evaluating candidates’ skills with practical tests instead. Today, the UK government announced that it would implement name-blind hiring in the civil service and the NHS by 2020, as part of a suite of initiatives geared toward making the public sector more inclusive and meritocratic. Several organizations in the UK have made their recruitment processes “college-blind” to prevent alumni of more prestigious universities from obtaining an unfair advantage. Candice Morgan, who got hired as Pinterest’s first head of diversity last month, wants to eliminate bias from the hiring process through the rigorous application of standards.
Such reforms aren’t without their critics. On one hand, some people doubt that name-blind hiring can really eliminate affinity biases. On the other, Roy Maurer at SHRM talks to some experts who argue that blind hiring can overcomplicate the recruiting process and prevent recruiters from gauging factors like cultural fit (although that standard has itself been criticized as a euphemism for affinity bias):
There is an important and ongoing dialogue about workplace bias, its causes and consequences, and the most effective ways to combat it. When we participate in that conversation, the better part of our nature is often revealed: We want nothing less than to figure out ways to reduce or even eliminate bias among the otherwise good people we work with. Sometimes, however, we are too quick to shut down potential solutions just because they stop short of those lofty goals.
Take this recent article by Laura Allner at Personnel Today, about initiatives in the UK to create “name-blind” application processes for university hiring in an attempt to combat unconscious bias among recruiters. The idea is that by forcing recruiters to evaluate resumes without the details that could help them guess the race or ethnicity of the applicant, it will be harder for those recruiters to discriminate. Allner dismisses the value of name-blind CVs, because unconscious bias is still likely to creep in at other stages of the process, especially interviews:
Without going so far as to introduce “blind” interviews, with voice distortion technology, it is unclear how effective name-blinding will be in reducing discrimination in recruitment.
There is plenty of evidence that workplace bias exists, and that it hurts women and minorities in many ways, including several large-scale studies showing discrimination in the job application process. And of course it’s important to recognize that name-blind application processes and efforts like them (including name-blind assessments for HIPO and other internal employee programs), don’t actually reduce unconscious bias. They just try to get around it by not allowing existing bias to get in the way of decision-making.