Diversity Recruiting as a Strategy: Orchestras, Reality Shows and HR

Jeanette Leeds Maister August 27, 2018

It has been proven time and time again, diverse teams are remarkably more effective than teams who have the same experiences and perspectives. But, this is not limited to gender and ethnicity. Diverse teams also means different backgrounds, skill sets and different ways of thinking.

McKinsey conducted a study showing firms with the most gender diversity at the executive level are more profitable than those that do not have as much gender diversity. Leaning toward blind recruiting seems to be the most logical solution, but is this method actually gender blind? Unfortunately, simply removing names from CVs or resumes is not enough to remove our subconscious biases and hire these profitable diverse teams.

Diversity Recruiting as a Strategy

The future is diverse, and it is coming fast. Millennials are currently the largest generation in the U.S. workforce (35%) and they are more diverse than the generation before them. Gen Z is about to graduate from college over the next two years, and they’re even more diverse than millennials. A recent study shows 81% of Gen Z’s have one or more friends of a different race. Diversity is not new to them. However, the issue is most organizations are completely unprepared and treating recruiting like they always have.

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Diversity recruiting should not just be a program put in place. It’s a strategy that benefits everyone and if we can harness that in our roles, we can make a huge impact. In U.S. commercial banks, even with the use of diversity programs, equality is not improving. Within the last few years, white women’s representation in management dropped from 39% to 35%. The numbers were even worse in investment banks. Even in Silicon Valley, where many leaders tout the need to increase diversity for both business and social justice reasons, most tech jobs are still held by white men.

Is the failure of these diversity programs really shocking? Even though companies are saying they are focusing on diversity, they are only using some bells and whistles while still doubling down on the same approaches they have used since the 1960s. Rather than reduce bias and foster an inclusive work culture, the goal of these outdated approaches are to preempt lawsuits within the office.

Orchestras, Reality Shows and HR

If our goal is to put the right people, at the right time, in the right are we determining who the right people are? Their past work experience? Their school? The dilemma is to differentiate what information would cause a bias and what would inform the company whether the candidate would be an exceptional fit.

Think of the show The Voice. The concept of the show seems fairly new - the judges are turned around with no preconceived notions or stereotypes of the performers. The contestants are judged purely on their ability to wow the audience and judges with their singing voice. This blind audition concept stems from decades old studies. Before the 1970s, symphony orchestras were made up of almost all white men.

Directors would brush off the statistic by saying these white men were simply the most qualified. In the 70s, though, The New York Philharmonic and The Boston Symphony Orchestra held auditions behind screens so the judges couldn’t see what they looked like. They even went as far as having carpeted floor so no one could differentiate the sound of a woman’s heels walking to position from men’s dress shoes.

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Harvard and Princeton took notice of this and wanted to know what came of it. They found 25% - 45% of female musicians were more likely to be hired. When women found out the playing field was leveled, the number of female applicants began to skyrocket. This is very similar to blind recruiting. No, job interviews will not be conducted with a screen between the candidate and the interviewer, and the odds of hiring managers taking their inspiration from The Voice seems highly unlikely, as well.

Making a Case for Blind Recruiting

A study in 2003 by MIT and The University of Chicago found applicants with a white sounding name versus a black sounding name were 50% more likely to get a first-round job interview. A follow-up study in 2015 found if you had a black sounding name, but went to an elite university, you would be selected for a first round interview at the same rate as someone with a white sounding name from a less selective school. Many organizations have implemented processes of removing name, nationality and university names from resumes/CVs when given to hiring managers so they can solely judge on merit and experience.

Studies by the Social Mobility Commission show numerous industries are failing to hire talented young people from less advantaged backgrounds because they recruit from a small pool of elite universities and hire those who fit in with the culture. Specifically, they are favoring middle and higher income candidates who come from a handful of the country’s top universities.

Furthermore, recent studies from Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Birmingham suggests managers often select candidates for client-facing jobs who fit the “traditional” image of a role, with many placing as much importance on an individual’s speech, accent, dress and behaviour as on their skills and qualifications. This introduces disadvantages for candidates whose upbringing and background means they are not aware of certain dress codes - for example, some senior investment bankers still consider it unacceptable for men to wear brown shoes with a business suit.

We have the opportunity to remove bias and get back to being human. For more information on how to remove bias, download our eBook Diversity Hiring: A Guide to Gender Blind Recruiting and Overcoming Bias!

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