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How can blind recruitment practices remove unconscious bias

Growing a diverse team has never been so important. Diversity is proven to increase creativity, profitability, and the ability for businesses to solve problems; and while it's important to hire at the top, there are instances where the candidate base consists of a miniscule pool of people. Focusing on diversity hiring at the junior level allows reach and shows a willingness for change. To succeed in this, we first need to understand that some of these candidates may already be applying but are missing out based on socioeconomic factors beyond their control. What does this look like on a practical level and how does unconscious bias play a part?

I've heard it all before

  • ‘We need great academics because they must be smart.'
  • ‘It's important we hire someone from a good background because they're well connected.'
  • ‘The whole team are lads, so we need someone who will fit in.'
We receive this feedback regularly from companies who purport to be forward thinking businesses. This is before looking at invisible barriers these candidates face from unconscious bias – ‘they went to the same university as me', ‘we both play netball' or ‘they're from my home-town'. According to a 2020 McKinsey report1, companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability with companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity at 33% more likely to outperform within this area. Irrespective of the above, in 2021, there is no justification to lack diversity in your team, be it gender-diversity, or ethnic-diversity, or socio-economic diversity, or beyond. The Dartmouth Partners 2021 Gen-Z hiring report has shown that candidates are looking to work in diverse teams – with 58% of them reviewing a business' diversity before applying. On top of this, 53% of candidates felt their background could hinder their application process or success. An effective way to tackle diversity within growing companies is starting at the grassroots, with graduates. Graduates are the most tech-savvy they've ever been and more motivated than ever given the current social and economic conditions the pandemic has created.

But the issues aren't us…

For several companies, it's hard to peer into the looking glass and question whether you're running the best interview process but it's always good to reflect on these at least annually. Diversity within a team should be embedded sooner rather than later but, to achieve this, you may need to review your entire recruitment process.

We know more than we think

In most cases, seeing an individual's name can easily identify the applicants' gender, but it can also result in an interviewer making other assumptions on the applicant including race or religion. Although not fool-proof, the majority of individuals begin university at 18 or 19, and seeing the years they were in full-time further study can help you piece the puzzle together about their age. Finally, seeing a candidate's location can mean you presume their socio-economic background or question their ability to relocate quickly. I've seen countless examples of individuals applying for roles with their first and middle name, over their first and family name – i.e Matthew Swan applies as Matthew Stephen.

Where did they study?

As we're focusing on graduate hiring, let's talk about university and where people study. Some facts:
  • Not everyone can afford to move away from home to attend university.
  • Not everyone can afford a personal form of transport to commute to a range of universities.
  • If their only option is to live at home, they're probably limited to two/three universities based on location.
  • If these universities are at opposite ends of the league table, they may be forced to attend one with a lower ranking because they didn't obtain A*AA at A-Level.
Let's say I was living in the centre of Southampton – my initial options would be to study at University of Southampton (Ranked 17th) or Southampton Solent (ranked 100th). To get into Southampton, I'd need AAA and Solent BCC – meaning if I fell one grade below my target and clearing wasn't my friend, my next option is Solent. Even if I wanted to sit on public transport for under an hour either way, with a short walk in either direction – my options extend to University of Portsmouth (61st) or University of Bournemouth (86th). To be clear, I'm not saying any universities are less reputable, but sometimes where a Graduate studies isn't just down to their academics.
  • University of Bristol – 14th/University of the West of England Bristol – 64th
  • University of Warwick – 11th/University of Coventry – 54th
  • University of Manchester – 17th/Manchester Metropolitan – 54th
Although university grades and institutions studied at can help you identify smart candidates, you may be too quick to dismiss intelligent candidates based on where they studied. A 2017 UK study2 found that a third of HR managers felt confident that they're not prejudiced when hiring new staff. Further to this, half admitted that bias affects their candidate choice and a further 20% couldn't be sure whether they're bias or not.

So, what exactly is blind recruitment?

Blind recruitment is viewing an application without an identifying factor. This includes location, age, address, years of experience or grades achieved, and institutions attended for obtaining qualifications. The idea behind removing all such information makes it easier for hiring managers and HR teams to make objective decisions about a candidate's skills, experience, and their overall suitability of the role. You're removing criteria that could unintentionally make hiring managers bias towards certain candidates while also giving under-represented groups confidence that their application will be fairly considered. But how does a CV need to change to review it blind?
  • Application names remain ambiguous – Chris White becomes ‘Candidate 1' or ‘CW'.
  • Removing location – completely omitting it or only listing it as their current city.
  • Take out where and what they studied and the grades they achieved.
Resulting in applications looking like this:
  • Candidate A,
  • Masters Degree Educated
  • Completed Further Education after completing their GCSE's.

Test First, Screen Second

Nowadays, a number of recruitment processes will include a testing element, be it role plays for sales positions, written tasks for marketing vacancies or quantitative test for analytical roles. We hear time and time again that candidates are rejected based on their performances, often at the third or fourth round of the recruitment processes – it's clear that failure to complete these tasks to a required level are deal breakers, so why not save yourself time and begin with these stages. Many businesses hire junior talent for customer service positions and are concerned with how efficient and succinct an individual can be at junior level. An email prioritisation/reply task is something more and more businesses are doing. It's a great indicator of a candidates' prioritisation, the way they can pick up the business's tone, and their attention to detail. In the marketing sphere, there are multiple things you can ask candidates such as creating email templates, content pieces or even short research tasks, all of which are perfectly acceptable for a candidate to complete, ideally taking no-more than 90 minutes to complete. And then there's the numerical side, one of the easiest and quickest tests to mark because usually there is only one right answer. Testing is also a good way to remove candidates not truly interested in a role. If they're unwilling to spend 60-90 minutes completing a task, are they truly interested in working for your business? On the flip side these tasks can also mean that the candidates gain more human exposure to the business and the role as they progress and can often increase the ‘buy-in' that a candidate has in your business.

So, we review the tasks with the CVs?

To truly use testing in a blind recruitment process, you need to asses all testing without knowing anything about the candidates, reviewing the top 4-6 and then inviting all to interview, even if you notice they've received a lower-second from an institution you wouldn't usually consider an applications from. In a perfect world, you wouldn't learn certain information about an individual until they're at offer stage, but if you're unable to do that, the above is a good option.

What's the downside?

Although there are countless benefits from blind recruitment practices, it's by no means a perfect process. Firstly, blind recruitment doesn't always help diversity in the team, if your business is looking to improve gender or ethnic diversity, much like ensuring these candidates aren't ruled out of the process, you can't always ensure the top four applicants will be from diverse backgrounds. Also, without a sophisticated Applicant Tracking System, there are limited ways to ensure that candidates details aren't seen by anyone in the interview process. Secondly, cultural fit isn't an easy thing to assess at the best of times, when reviewing tests before inviting people to interview, you may struggle to see how strong of a culture fit they are. You can't hire without meeting people, and you cannot ensure bias won't creep in during phone or face-to-face interviews. Finally, it's a long process – you need people-power to mark all these tests, which in a tough market might be significantly higher in volume. At Dartmouth, diversity is central to what we do and we're known in the sectors we work in for being experts. If you're looking to increase your diversity hiring in 2022 and in need of advice on the process, please reach out to one of our experts today  – we're here to help.
  1. Diversity wins: How inclusion matters - 2. Only a third of HR managers ‘confident they are not prejudiced' when hiring -

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