Blind Job Applications Might Reduce Gender Bias and Discrimination, Research Finds

Blind Job Applications Might Reduce Gender Bias and Discrimination, Research Finds
As the existence of gender, race and other biases becomes more widely acknowledged, many organizations are “blinding” their talent selection systems. (Alan Cleaver)

In the STEM community, women represent only 28 percent of the workforce, are paid less, receive less funding and are cited less often than their male counterparts

But anonymizing job applications and research proposals might diminish identity bias in hiring processes, according to a recent study by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

In the study, when indications of candidates’ gender—like their first name—were removed from applications, women were selected at a higher rate than when their gender was obvious.

The study, which focuses on gender disparity regarding academic and research funding, emphasizes the biases science professionals hold towards principal investigators of different genders—but its findings may come in handy for women who find themselves out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, which could cost 47 million jobs and send the unemployment rate past 32 percent.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states discriminating against a potential hire because of their “race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information” is illegal.

But despite this prohibited practice, implicit bias still affects human resource professionals, leading to potential unintentional discrimination. 

Aaron Wallen, a senior lecturer in the discipline of human capital management at Columbia University, said anonymous job applications remain uncommon due to tradition and hiring managers’ disregard for their own biases. 

“It’s just the way it’s always been done,” Wallen said about named job applications. “The use of anonymous applications will increase as it becomes a common practice; both candidates and recruiting organizations need to lead the way first, and establish a new norm—then others will soon follow.”

Although no major changes have occurred to making job applications more “blind,” some recruiters might be starting. Melissa Haley of the recruiting firm 24 Seven Talent said that her company uses anonymous applications.

“Because we’re representing individuals and sending their resumes to our clients, we create a redacted version without their name, and just use initials,” Haley told Ms.

Research on the benefits of anonymous hiring and recruitment processes has been pursued since the mid-20th century.

For example, in 1969, when musicians auditioned behind a screen to anonymize themselves, the likelihood of women being hired increased. When this practice became standard, female musicians auditioned more.

Now, in arts, STEM and other fields, more organizations have formed to develop girls’ skills and inspire them to pursue any career path, despite or in spite of the potentially overwhelming presence of men in these fields. From Girls Make Beats to Girls Who Code, young girls have more access to training for fields that have traditionally been male-dominated.

But teaching girls these skills is only half the battle—because it’s bias, not talent, that prevents women from being hired.

Even though research has shown the benefits of anonymous applications, Wallen recognizes that not much has changed in human resources. 

“One reason underlying why it is still a problem is that the stereotypes regarding what men and women are like and how they ought to behave have not changed very much over the last few decades,” Wallen said. “Certain jobs are still labeled for being ‘girl jobs’ or ‘boy jobs.’”

Some, including Wallen, emphasize the need to address gender bias in the pipeline leading to job hires, especially in schooling. However, the New York Times noted that there is a major difference between “the number of minor­ity students graduating with the qualifications to work in highly skilled jobs and the number who are hired.”

Hiring managers must begin to address these examples of discrimination.

The classic first step? Admitting there’s a problem.

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Fiona is a journalism student at the University of Southern California. When not in the office nor in class, she is often found photographing her friends, attending local concerts and eating sourdough toast.