How Anonymous Applications Can Help You Diversify Your Workforce

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Paper DollsHere’s a great example of how not to look for new talent: Finnish startup Sportacam posted a job ad for a backend developer that included some misogynistic and homophobic language. Using this sort of language in an ad is crude, unprofessional, and just plain unnecessary. It can can alienate a large part of your client base — would any woman or gay man feel comfortable in a workplace that used that kind of language? — and make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

And yet, when confronted with the offensive job ad, some commentators defended it, suggesting it was all in good fun and no harm was done by posting something a little racier than usual. Sportacam even mentioned that it received more applications for the job after it added the coarse language. However, the company alienated a large part of its candidate base by “spicing up” the job ad.

This is a classic situation where employers aren’t seeing their biases. When the people of Sportacam posted the job advertisement, they likely weren’t aware of their biases and how their language could affect and deter certain candidates. Though this an obvious example of bias, it works in more subtle ways as well. Here are a few biases your recruiting department might not be aware of, and how they affect your hiring process.

An Applicant by Any Other Name

If you’re looking for an easy way to make sure your HR department doesn’t get rid of a large part of its candidate pool, look no further than the very top of the application. Research tells us applicants with non-ethnic names get callbacks 50 percent more often than applicants with ethnic names. This isn’t to say that your HR department is overtly racist and won’t consider candidates at all; rather, that when it comes down to choosing between two candidates, chances are that HR will go with the name that sounds more familiar.

This problem is easier to fix than you might think: all it takes is a blind application process in which no one knows a candidate’s name until they meet them (or sometimes, even after that). If your organization is looking to base hires entirely on merit, blind applications are the best way to ensure no qualified candidate is overlooked. This type of process can also help you avoid embarrassing situations, such as the one Virgin Atlantic faced when they only hired Max Kpakio after he began using a more British-sounding name on his job applications.

The Gender Gap

If you still don’t think your hiring department or managers are making subjective decisions, consider this: a recent study has found that both men and women are 50 percent more likely to hire a man. The study also mentions that men were hired even when things weren’tequal and the woman was more qualified.

Blind auditions can help here as well. Orchestras, for example, have used blind auditions for over forty years and have seen great progress in diversifying their musicians. When we can’t hold blind auditions and must eventually meet a candidate, we should think about the issue as a problem with the hiring managers making the decisions.

“The corporate world is led by men confident that they are identifying talent objectively and effectively. The reality, underlined by this and many other reports, is that decision-making about talent is rife with unconscious assumptions and personal biases.” – Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

Anonymous auditions aren’t a cure-all and won’t remove all biases in hiring. Even after removing names, applicants facing long-term unemployment are still less likely to land jobs than those who currently have jobs. But anonymous auditions and applications are a good start, and they can go a long way toward diversifying your organization and ensuring you’re hiring the best possible talent.

By Maren Hogan