Why Gender- and Race-Blind Hiring Does Not Work to Combat Bias

Two years ago, my niece, an engineer in her twenties with solid work experience, started a new job about which she was very excited. She was one of very few women in this engineering company, which was not unusual. When she returned from maternity leave about six months ago, after having her first child, she was treated so badly by her male manager that she eventually resigned. After her return from maternity leave, her manager took away her meaningful projects and gave her boring work that no one in the company cared about. He denied her requests for flex time, for permission to occasionally work remotely, and for permission to leave early on days when she had medical appointments. He made disparaging remarks about her needing breaks to pump and made comments that implied she was useless to him because she would probably have more babies. She complained to HR who said nothing could be done. She could not thrive there. With every day that passed, she felt worse about the company and began to doubt herself. She left. Organizations think they can solve the problems of underrepresentation of white women and women and men of color in their workforce by using gender- and race-blind résumé screening to eliminate bias in the hiring process. Katharine Zaleski of the New York Times describes “blind hiring” as a dangerous trend. In this process, the names of candidates are removed from résumés and voices are altered during phone interviews to “mask” the gender and race of candidates in an attempt to eliminate bias. Zaleski cites studies showing that blind hiring does not work because

  • The résumés of white women and women and men of color still get screened out when gaps in a résumé signal the applicant is probably a woman who took time out for caregiving, or when the names of colleges, college majors, or volunteer activities indicate the applicant may be a person of color.
  • Even if the blind résumé gets a candidate through an initial round of screening, the biases of hiring managers kick in later during the traditional in-person interview.
  • Using blind-hiring processes does nothing to create organizational cultures where white women and women and men of color can thrive. Once hired, they will not stay if the organization has not worked to create an inclusive culture where diversity is valued.
Zaleski notes that blind hiring “is a misguided distraction from the hard work of evaluating and fixing the ways in which their cultures drive out” white women and women and men of color. My niece now works for a different company. Her new boss is a woman with young children who is relaxed and confident about parents being good workers. The organization has solid family-friendly policies and practices. My niece says her goal is to work hard, do her best work, and advance as a professional in her new company. In other words, she feels she can thrive there. Her old company pushed her out and lost a valuable employee because of gender biases. That didn’t have to happen.   Photo by Amtec Staffing, CC BY-SA 2.0.  ]]>