Masking the gender and race of job applicants increases diversity in hiring.

Eric Ries writes about his experience in achieving diversity in hiring by masking identifying information from the résumés (emphasis mine):

Now, whenever I screen resumes, I ask the recruiter to black out any demographic information from the resume itself: name, age, gender, country of origin. The first time I did this experiment, I felt a strange feeling of vertigo while reading the resume. “Who is this guy?” I had a hard time forming a visual image, which made it harder to try and compare each candidate to the successful people I’d worked with in the past. It was an uncomfortable feeling, which instantly revealed just how much I’d been relying on surface qualities when screening resumes before – even when I thought I was being 100% meritocratic. And, much to my surprise (and embarrassment), the kinds of people I started phone-screening changed immediately.

And yet, when I suggest this practice to hiring managers and recruiters alike, they rarely do it. Hiring managers say, “the recruiter would never go for it” while recruiters say, “the hiring manager won’t accept it.” What I think we’re really saying is: “I don’t want to know if I am biased.” That’s understandable – it’s embarrassing! Even if our biases are only implicit and not consciously held, the systems we build can still contain bias. When we change a hiring policy, especially if we do it in a visible way, we reap two benefits. We actually improve our hiring process and also signal our commitment to meritocracy.

Ries’ post is also about tech startups and the concept of meritocracy. White men dominate tech startups because of white privilege and male privilege, not because they are more qualified.


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20 Responses to “Masking the gender and race of job applicants increases diversity in hiring.”

  1. urbia Says:

    And these are just the jobs that are actually advertised.

    Another step to meritocratic hiring is to make all openings advertised by law, and not just after a candidate has already been chosen.

  2. thewhatifgirl Says:

    I wonder if this would be even better than affirmative action.

  3. urbia Says:

    And there should be less mystery around the Catch-22 ‘got no experience, how do I gain experience?’ pattern.

    Young POC should not grow up alongside their white counterparts and see their buddies ‘magically’ get around this Catch-22 with no explanation, or even the silencing of discussion.

  4. Restructure! Says:

    thewhatifgirl,

    We can’t mask the applicant’s identifying information at the interview stage, though. Then again, I always wondered what the point of interviews are… maybe there should be instant messaging interviews.

  5. urbia Says:

    ^ Same here. From the looks of some of the job tips articles I see frequently, interviews give you an opportunity to give a ‘good impression’ as much as they do to test your knowledge. I can’t imagine how much meaningful information you’d get from someone in such short time. After all, it’s said repeatedly that the decisions of hiring managers may be made in the first minute or so of meeting, which is why one should wear a good suit, have a good hair cut, not chew gum, etc., the list goes on. It sounds very superficial with a lot of room for bias.

  6. thewhatifgirl Says:

    Yeah, you both make very good points. Urbia, I would add that there is a script for interviews, for both the questions and the answers, that adds to the lack of real information coming out of them. This makes me wonder how the tradition of job interviews started… I wonder if it WAS just a way to keep people of color out of the pool (especially since many people of color have historically used or had “white-sounding” names).

  7. urbia Says:

    Yeah, and there are some job ads that go out of their way to emphasis the most superficial parts of job-hunting. It’ll say, “Apply in person, no phone calls please,” or something similar.

    And then there’s that trend of electronically screening resumes for certain keywords. You have to wonder about that too. If you don’t use the same industry vocabulary or use the right words, your resume doesn’t get noticed even if you might be qualified otherwise. Cultural factors like that, being ‘in the loop,’ etc. While I’d advocate staying on top of your industry nevertheless, the screening shouldn’t go as far as all-out excluding you if you don’t have those key words. It ought to simply be a bonus if you did have them.

    There have been instances where POC had been invited to interviews through the phone, only to be told the ‘position has been filled’ as soon as they show up in person.

    There should definitely be more transparency on the job openings and the qualifications of the person who got the offer (even if posted anonymously, just with the job posting ID number) – just so other applicants can compare against their own qualifications and see that the process was fair. If you had five years’ experience and the record shows the hired person for that job ID number had only three years, then you know right away that something is fishy.

    Already, I think the salaries of public servants are made public if they go over a certain amount. In a similar fashion, the details in hiring, and for all positions, should be made public knowledge in the interest of equality, even if the names are obscured.

  8. Restructure! Says:

    thewhatifgirl,

    IIRC, the system of recommendation letters was created to keep Jews out of academia.

    urbia,

    That reminds me of this: Still Racial Pawns: Blacks in Academia by Dr. Terence Fitzgerald.

  9. urbia Says:

    On recommendation letters:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2572075/

    And just the fact you’re not even supposed to open the letters and read them for yourself is rather suspect.

  10. urbia Says:

    Another train of thought:

    In terms of outcome, what’s really the difference between a job ad that says, “No POC allowed,” and one that simply isn’t posted at all but filled behind the scenes?

  11. The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality « Restructure! Says:

    […] Masking the gender and race of job applicants increases diversity in hiring. by Restructure! […]

  12. jewamongyou Says:

    I’m all for masking the gender/race of applicants for government jobs. As it is, blacks are way overrepresented in these jobs (visit your local urban DMV for example). As for private employment, people should be allowed to hire whomever they please for whatever reason – this is what it means to be “private”.

    According to the L.A. Times, blacks are 16.3% of State Dept. employees:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/16/nation/la-na-black-diplomats17-2010mar17

    According to Allgov.com, blacks make up 26.4% of postal clerks. But it is true that they are way underrepresented in the sciences.

    As for Ries’ experiment, what was true for him might, or might not, be true for others. This is hardly a scientific study.

  13. Restructure! Says:

    Please read the links at the bottom as well. Those include actual studies.

  14. jewamongyou Says:

    I am aware of the studies about “black names” but I’ll read the others and get back to you.

    I have my own (different) experiences with black employees:
    The good ones can command top dollar; businesses will pounce on the opportunity to get a good black employee because it protects them from accusations that they don’t hire enough minorities and it gives them good PR. Since the exceptional black employees are skimmed off by those with deep pockets, less affluent businesses simply cannot afford to employ them. So they are left with inferior ones. In time, this has a negative effect on the reputation of blacks overall – and it all starts with affirmative action.

  15. kasia yechimowicz Says:

    I always hire based upon education and other merit and have found that it always seems to be Europeans or South East Asians that are hired. I have also found that lately the groups most likely to cry foul of discrimination in hiring practices are of Indian or Arab Empire origin, despite clear lack of merit.

  16. Anti-Status Quo Voice Says:

    jewamongyou Says:
    January 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm So they are left with inferior ones. In time, this has a negative effect on the reputation of blacks overall – and it all starts with affirmative action.

    ………….

    Golly Day, You are so racist!

    What fxcking right do you have calling anybody “inferior” —-especially coming a Jew! I could just see you now somewhere on the African continent lording over the “mud people” in a pith helmet and riding crop!

    No wonder our respective communities are so alienated from one another…There is no such thing a Black – Jewish alliance based on common struggle!

    You are so patronizing and contemptuous!

  17. Anti-Status Quo Voice Says:

    Even if our biases are only implicit and not consciously held, the systems we build can still contain bias.

    The article, while brief and a little over-simplified in its conclusion, asks the reader to re-think critically our notions of the Merit principle / ideology.
    …………………..

    thewhatifgirl Says:
    March 16, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    This makes me wonder how the tradition of job interviews started… I wonder if it WAS just a way to keep people of color out of the pool (especially since many people of color have historically used or had “white-sounding” names.

    …………….

    A critical point you’ve made! Few people, especially Whites, bother to reflect about the “how” part of your question or specifically what racial group originally set and continues to dominate the “standards” of cultural behaviour and performance of the “traditional” interview.

    The “natural” outcome is that men and/or women of colour are kept out through a seemingly democratic process.

  18. Anti-Status Quo Voice Says:

    kasia yechimowicz Says:
    January 30, 2011 at 10:28 pm
    found that it always seems to be Europeans or South East Asians that are hired.

    ………………….

    This curious statement that should immediately call your organization’s recruitment – interview practices into some question for bias and White privilege. Not “racism” but Privilege. Are you sure that the recruitment/interview practices aren’t inherently structured to simply privilege and favour Euro-Canadian values / perspectives / cultural practices; or that it’s the more assimilated South East Asians who perhaps have a excellent command of English – Anglo-Canadian cultural performance behaviours that render them “acceptable” bodies, so they easily fit into the organizational standards/norms you’re seeking?

    Are you sure that the application and merit criteria you are using in your recruitment process isn’t filtering applicants through White Eurocentric lenses of “excellence” and just plain old-fashioned White preference?

    I question if your personnel recruiters – interviewers aren’t also ignoring/downplaying the weaknesses and deficiencies in White applicants, but perhaps glaringly recognize them in Applicants of Colour, whereon they could never ever meet the lofty standards you’ve set or unconsciously lift the bar of criteria – performance expectations.

    Who developed the hiring criteria/procedures? Was the plan designed as a group effort?

    kasia yechimowicz Says:

    I have also found that lately the groups most likely to cry foul of discrimination in hiring practices are of Indian or Arab Empire origin, despite clear lack of merit.
    ………………..

    I’m sure you are a hiring officer with good intentions and some integrity, but nonetheless this comment comes across as smug and complacent.

    There is a “so what/ “who cares” / does it really matter” discourse pervading the comment. Rather than dismissing this issue, perhaps it calls for some inquiry into your company’s practices.

    If complaints and grumblings have indeed occurred in your personnel dept, maybe there is some validity to these “Indian – Arab Empire” complaints.

    Were these applicants crying “foul” and “discrimination” also newcomers? Were there some ESL issues or did these Indian and Arab applicants lack White/European performativity standards where they just didn’t/can’t measure up to invisible White benchmarks you have set for them so that they don’t emerge as “winners” in the game?

    I think your company needs to conduct a Whiteness inventory check. Being a White member of an oppressed gender group that was historically marginalized and/or excluded in the labour market dominated by White males, I would hope you’d be more conscious in seeing some interlocking issues of race and ethnicity operating here.

  19. Anti-Status Quo Voice Says:

    @kasia yechimowicz

    Please also read post :
    The Hidden Job Market – Whiteness Has Its Privileges
    September 16, 2010 — Guest Contributor

  20. Discrimination against job applicants with non-white names continues. « Restructure! Says:

    […] Masking the gender and race of job applicants increases diversity in hiring. by Restructure! […]


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