Bias, argues Kostiantyn Gridin, partner and COO at business consultancy CFC Big Ideas, is the scourge of conventional recruitment processes. “Talented candidates are at risk of being overlooked because hiring managers may have some sort of conscious or subconscious opinion about something,” he says. “It could be anything, from someone’s name to how they speak or what they look like – and this is not fair.”
Indeed, a study by the University of Oxford’s Centre for Social Investigation has found that British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds must send, on average, 60% more job applications than their white counterparts to elicit a positive response from recruiters.
Determined to prevent bias of any kind from prejudicing its recruitment choices, CFC Big Ideas has adopted a “totally blind” hiring policy for all vacancies, according to Gridin. Although it’s based in Kyiv, Ukraine, the firm recruits internationally, with many of its roles able to be done remotely.
Some form of blind hiring – for instance, removing personal information from applicants’ CVs and cover letters before the recruiting managers see them – has become a fairly common HR practice. But, while most employers apply such measures up until the interview stage, CFC Big Ideas has taken preserving candidates’ anonymity several steps further.
What is ‘totally blind’ hiring?
Mykhailo Kats, a senior project manager, explains that the process remains blind all the way up until the successful applicant receives a job offer.
“First, candidates submit their CVs and cover letters online, with all personal data redacted,” he says. “Each applicant receives a special number to appear on the dashboard [of the firm’s recruitment mini-site]. The only details left for the recruiting managers to see are experience, education and skills.”
Shortlisted candidates are invited to an asynchronous online interview, where they record their responses to a set of fixed questions. Partnering with Brazilian software developer Jobecam, CFC Big Ideas has created a platform on which interviewees are represented by a “static, faceless avatar” on the screen. “Interviewees’ voices are masked by a special technology so that they all sound the same – a robotic voice with a neutral tone,” Kats says.
In 2020, a joint study by the University of Munich, the University of Chicago and the US National Bureau of Economic Research suggested that having a strong regional accent could reduce a starting salary offer by as much as 20%.
Candidates who pass the online interview stage at CFC Big Ideas are then invited to a live interview with the hiring manager. Again, their faces are hidden and their voices are disguised.
The hiring manager gets to see the successful candidate and discover their true identity only after offering them the job. At this point, final terms and any required adjustments to the workplace – to accommodate someone with a disability, for instance – are discussed.
Eliminating unconscious bias
Earlier this year, CFC Big Ideas used its totally blind hiring process for the first time when appointing a new HR manager. Gridin admits that the successful candidate probably wouldn’t have secured the job via a more conventional selection method, simply because of her resemblance to his ex-wife.
He acknowledges that this would have been wrong, of course, stressing that “every one of us has some prejudices that we often can’t control. Totally blind hiring helps us to eliminate those without hours of training. Many people have had traumatic experiences, especially at a young age, that we can’t even remember consciously, but these can affect our lives every day.”
Kats adds that this appointment serves as an exemplar of what totally blind recruitment can do when managed effectively. “The process worked because we focused only on people’s experiences and their answers to our questions,” he says. “We did not risk our judgement being distracted by anything else.”
CFC Big Ideas will present its approach to businesses attending a digital summit it’s hosting on 12 October as part of the Global Inclusion Online Forum the firm has created with the aim of making the corporate world more diverse and equitable.
Gridin reports that his company has already received several enquiries from technology firms, government bodies and universities in both the US and the UK about how to implement the process.
True diversity versus tokenism
Diverse organisations tend to perform better than average “because it’s always useful to have a variety of backgrounds and perspectives around the table”, according to Gridin. But he is not a supporter of positive action, suggesting that it’s too tokenistic.
“It would be an insult to hire someone just because they were Black, a woman or whatever,” Gridin argues. “It would be an insult to the other candidates to dismiss them for not being a certain way. And it would be an insult to the people you hire, because you’d be saying to them that they got the job only because of their skin colour or gender, rather than their ability. Quotas do not make people feel good.”
But what would happen if all the candidates selected via the fully blind hiring process were to keep coming from the same narrow demographic group? Gridin believes that such an outcome would be “statistically very improbable” in the long term, as there are likely to be hugely talented people from a range of backgrounds who simply wouldn’t have made it to the first interview stage previously.
The totally blind hiring process, Gridin and Kats argue, is as meritocratic as it possibly can be. “We’re only interested in hiring the best people for the job,” Kats stresses. “We don’t care about anything else.”
This article is part of our Going Against the Grain series, which tells the stories of companies bold enough to break business norms and try out new ideas. To explore the rest of the series, click here