In 2012, the Australian National University published an important study on bias in recruiting, and the results weren’t great. For job hunters who don’t have an Anglo-Celtic name to get as many interviews as people who do, they have to send out more applications. Sometimes, a lot more. If you’re Italian Australian, it’s 12 percent more. Indigenous 35 percent, Middle Eastern 64 percent, all the way up to 68 percent for people with Chinese names.
So after recognising there is, in fact, a problem, and after many businesses and state and federal governments had resolved to become more diverse, blind recruitment has been the darling of recruitment industry for a few years now.Blind recruitment - a cure for diversity or cause for concern? Click To Tweet
However, by now you’ve probably heard of the study rocking the recruitment world: findings in the public service suggest blind recruitment hurts women’s chances of being shortlisted for an interview. Blind recruitment is being ‘paused’ amidst fears that efforts to ensure a diverse and talented workforce are actually sabotaging that very prospect.
So what happened? Well, there’s no one obvious reason yet. Here are two things we think might explain it:
The Times are a’Changin
One theory is that the discourse around equality and diversity is working! Recruiters are going out of their way to give the CVs of women or with non-Anglo names a chance, and when those indicators are taken out of a CV they can’t do that. As a result, the diversity of candidates in a blind recruitment trial would drop.
The important question is, if it’s true, why is it happening? Could this be just a case of some recruiters taking on board what they’ve learned and applying it in a positive way? Is blind recruitment falling short not because it’s counter-productive, but because the problem it’s trying to solve has (in the public sector at least) largely been solved?
Or, less optimistically, are recruiters actually skewing the data unknowingly by over-zealously prioritising diversity (positive discrimination)?
Possibly, humans can’t be trusted to make accurate judgements when juggling diversity with suitability for the role – but if that’s the case, that implies certain groups of people are in fact more suitable, and so there’s one other thing that might also be happening…
Nature, Nurture, Opportunity
This other theory is one that’s been around for a while and has always been an argument against blind recruitment: that white men are, on average, more skilled, and so will still stand out even with blind recruiting methods.
Whilst it is obviously ridiculous to suggest that any group of people is naturally more skilled, it is not nonsense to suggest that, especially in Australia, certain groups have access to more opportunities. Just as one example, men spend much less time doing unpaid labour, have much more time to dedicate to career building, and occupy more high-level roles that would enable them to develop an impressive CV.
So is it that ridiculous to assume that anyone less likely to be hired because of unconscious bias would also have a less robust CV? Not really.
But this doesn’t debunk blind recruitment. It has been shown to create more equitable workforces in the past. FluentIQ’s white paper on unconscious bias in recruiting is clear on the benefits in talent pools, competitive edge, and out-of-the-box thinking. The practice obviously has its merits.Blind recruitment is no longer effective because diversity in recruitment is solved? Click To Tweet
But the ways we recruit for diversity aren’t set in stone, and we need to ask: if blind recruitment does indeed favour the favoured, does it crowd out the talented applicants that might not have the same wealth of experience, but are systematically denied their chance to get some?
If yes, how can we eliminate these biases?
Don’t panic. It’s just one study. Your recruitment process hasn’t been torpedoed. It proves what we’ve always know: blind recruitment is not a silver bullet for diversity.
It’s not useless, or disproven, and whatever happened in this case won’t necessarily always happen in every business. It’s a tool in the arsenal of a recruiter that is and isn’t useful depending on your business structure, culture, aims and organisation.
Diversity is a boon to any business, we can’t overstate that. But there’s no sure-fire way there. You know your business best, and from that, you can work out what works best for you. When it comes to the hard science of these things, one study should make you sit up and take note, but not take fright.
Cover image: Shutterstock
How can you use your non-permanent workforce to improve your total workforce diversity? Join us on 12-13 September at the Contingent Workforce Conference 2017 to learn more. Tickets available here.
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