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How A Name On A Résumé Can Trigger Unconscious Bias


In 2017, two London job candidates responded to 100 available postings in the competitive sector of ad sales: Mohamed Allam and Adam Henton. Henton received 12 interviews; Allam received four. Via job sites, Henton heard from four recruiters. Allam heard from two. The catch: Allam and Henton were fictional, and the résumés that bore their names were identical. 

Over the course of a two-and-a-half-month experiment in unconscious hiring bias by BBC Inside Out, the résumé with the name "Adam" at the top received three times the number of interview offers than the one that had "Mohammed."

Unconscious bias affects every step of the hiring process. This experiment was one indication of how something as fundamental as a candidate's name could cause hiring teams to skip over them.

So, some companies are using programs that strip the names right off — along with other personal details that are frequently enclosed in résumé review. Blind hiring involves removing any information that will trigger any biases that are related to race. Not just removing the names but also possibly the education.

TopResume Career Expert Amanda Augustine told Bisnow that indeed, removing or blocking out certain details from a candidate's résumé — i.e. name, address, links to social channels, hobbies and even university name — "companies can reduce hiring discrimination and improve workplace diversity."

Proptech firm SquareFoot Vice President of People Eugenie Fanning said SquareFoot is experimenting with this approach to résumé reviews, in its efforts to bring in more diversity at the top of the recruitment funnel. However, Fanning said it’s trickier than it sounds.

“One of the biggest challenges that recruiting as a function faces when confronting biases is the wealth of information online,” Fanning said. “It’s not as simple as removing someone’s name from a résumé, although that is one of the most common practices. Anyone can Google the information you have at hand about a candidate and quickly discover more about their identity.

“We all must make sure that these are not only practices we follow but also that they’re values we uphold.”

TopResume's Augustine added that while processing "anonymous" résumés plays a key role in minimizing bias in the hiring process, employers can’t stop there.

Augustine said additional measures employers should take include “creating job descriptions with gender-neutral language, re-evaluating current recruitment processes and making changes, as needed, to attract a more diverse talent pool, and training those employees involved in the hiring process to make objective, bias-free decisions.” 

At CBRE, Diversity Recruiting Program Manager Davina Linguist implements programs and builds partnerships to increase the company's visibility to diverse candidates and then to build inclusion into every step, from the interview process forward. She hopes HR will implement tools to bring this capability to the company's hiring workflow in the not-too-distant future. 

“I’ve worked in several different industries but CRE has to be one of the hardest,” Linguist said. “IT, STEM, engineering, finance, but CRE might be the hardest because if you think about it, the challenge is you have a very narrow road that you’re trying to widen.

“I've heard about the [name removal] tool for a while now, and we’ve even spoken about it at CBRE," she said. "Hopefully we’ll be able to put this in practice, because definitely when you’re looking at director-level [positions] and above, we know it’s already a struggle" to bring diversity to the industry's highest levels.

Linguist has seen CBRE make strides since hiring her onto the D&I team in 2017, from tapping HBCUs for recruitment, to, just this summer, hiring the company's first chief diversity officer, Tim Dismond, who reports to the CEO — making the company's commitment to D&I more visible and front-of-mind than it has ever been.

Though while blind recruitment and résumé tools can only help improve diversity in their candidate pool, Linguist said resources are always a factor. 

While the Black Lives Matter movement has given corporate America a needed infusion of momentum in evaluating and working to improve diversity and inclusion, both company by company and industrywide, that momentum can be hard to maintain, according to a recent McKinsey report. It found that, despite knowing companies with greater diversity have a higher likelihood of outperforming less diverse competitors, growth in diversity across all industries has been slow.

“I think a part of it is whether or not the investment is made to buy the technology," Linguist said. "That goes back to the level of commitment. Sometimes we’ll say it, but saying it and doing it are two different things.”

Fanning at SquareFoot adds that diversity is about making your company attractive to candidates. "As we speak to and interview the next generation of workers, this topic comes up often,” she said. “They’re devoting themselves to choosing companies that walk the walk.”