Seeing less can help us make fairer decisions
Years of research conclude that even if your organization doesn’t have a “blinding” policy for hiring (and other people evaluations), you should do it anyway.
We are living through a moment in which the question of bias is front and center in many business discussions. There are good reasons for the focus on this persistent problem. We know, for example, that identical resumes with names that "sound black" receive less attention than those with white-sounding names. We also know that female entrepreneurs face a harder path to getting startups funded than their male peers.
Because so much research has shed light on the potentially negative impacts of bias, an increasingly important question is what can be done to minimize the effect of bias in critical people-centric decisions. One of the more established response strategies is something known as blinding, which refers to the withholding of specific information, e.g., applicant gender or age, from a decision-maker until after a decision is made. This is a technique with a long history, and a famous case is the adoption of blind auditions by some symphony orchestras — a practice that started in the 1960s. The impact of blind auditions was such that by the 1990s 25% of symphony musicians were women — up from about 5% in the 1950s.
As with the symphony example, research has demonstrated that if job applicant demographic information is withheld from hiring managers, job applicants from underrepresented groups are more likely to get interviewed and, in some cases, to receive job offers.
Even though the literature on blinding is clear about its benefits, the practice remains the exception in business, which led Sean Fath (Cornell), Richard P. Larrick (Duke), Jack B. Soll (Duke), and Susan Zhu (Kentucky) to seek to understand why a technique with a long track record of reducing bias in decisions has not gained wider acceptance in the corporate world. Specifically, the researchers explored the factors "that might influence whether evaluators will choose on their own to use a strategy of blinding in their evaluations" and the efficacy of those factors once deployed.
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