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Is “blind hiring” enough? Let's start by calling it bias-reduced hiring.

Illustration of a person in shadows with a flashlight

Artwork by Jesse Blanchie.

In a recent interview, I was asked if I thought “blind hiring” would alleviate some of the barriers that trans, gender diverse, and two-spirit people face in being hired. Here are some of my thoughts on that:

What is “blind hiring 1“?

Blind hiring began in the 1950’s, when many/most orchestras predominantly hired white male musicians, justifying this by suggesting that those players were more skilled and experienced than their female and/or racialized counterparts. To reduce the selection bias, musicians auditioned from behind a screen, removed their shoes, are were identified by numbers rather than by their names in the audition process. And guess what? Diversity went up! Significantly!

And let’s get real, selection biases find their way into every other industry as well. From service to tech, and everything in between, marginalized people have to deal with their employers’ implicit biases on the daily.  We’ve seen studies that show that otherwise identical resumes with “white sounding” names get 50% more call-backs, and similar gaps exist for “male perceived” names. With these realities in mind, more and more employers are turning to “blind hiring” (which I’ll now call “bias-reduced hiring” – see footnote) to reduce bias and increase workplace diversity.

Will “bias-reduced hiring” help?

Yep! Bias-reduced hiring would ultimately aid trans, gender non-conforming, and two-spirit people in securing work. A combination of the data from this CBC article and this Everyday Feminism article tells me that for trans and gender diverse people:

  • 20%-50% are un/underemployed
  • 18% have been turned down for a job because of their gender
  • 32% unsure if their gender influenced the hiring manager’s decision not to hire
  • up to 90% have experienced some discrimination or harassment on the job

And the Office of Human Rights in Washington, DC, reports that:

  • 48% of employers appeared to prefer at least one less-qualified applicant perceived as cisgender over a more-qualified applicant perceived as transgender.
  • 33% of employers offered interviews to one or more less-qualified applicant(s) perceived as cisgender while not offering an interview to at least one of the more-qualified applicant(s) perceived as transgender.

By its very nature, selection bias happens before our conscious minds can override it. It’s likely that employers who contribute to these statistics are not overtly hateful towards trans, gender non-conforming, and two-spirit people (although some may be). But if they were raised in a Euro-Western, colonized nation, it’s likely that they’ve internalized messages (from everywhere! media, school, family, religion,…) that tell us that trans people are confused, impostors, and not to be trusted or believed. And as you know, those qualities are not typically associated with the “ideal candidate”. It’s easy to see how culturally-embedded biases ultimately impact the likelihood of someone being hired.

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Is “bias-reduced hiring” enough?

No! While there are some definite pros to bias-reduced hiring, this practice will not be a magical social equalizer in your workplace. Bias-reduced hiring will likely increase workplace diversity, but that doesn’t mean that employers and co-workers will have the skills and competencies to create an affirming, supportive, and anti-oppressive work environment, which is necessary in order to yield the benefits of that diversity. An underemphasized element of bias-reduced hiring is that it has to be paired with training.

When you’re pursuing training that is focused on undoing unconscious biases:

    1. Set realistic expectations. Do not over promise and under deliver. Raising expectations that unconscious bias training will eliminate all bias would be disingenuous. The goal is to be conscious of our biases and not to pretend to be [oblivious] to differences that exist.
    2. Provide appropriate time for the training. It has taken a lifetime to develop our biases; they cannot be overcome in a two-hour session. [This will be ongoing and lifelong learning, so ongoing trainings and check-ins will be the most useful in moving your organization from learning to real and impactful change.]
    3. Provide the training in person. This topic requires interaction, trust, and the opportunity for people to meet in a safe environment. E-learning or Webinars are not appropriate delivery methods for unconscious bias training, nor will they produce measurable change.
    4. Be judicious in selecting the right facilitator. Do not select trainers only because they took a course on diversity, see this topic as “their passion,” or are from an underrepresented group. Trainers should be highly qualified and well versed in the social psychology of attitude formation, be excellent and empathetic facilitators, and have a non-threatening and inclusive style that avoids guilt trips.

(Find these, and many more training guideline gems, at trainingmag.com).

Most good employers would agree that the ultimate goal is to create workplaces that value people for their character, their contributions, their skill set, and their uniqueness. So let’s do everything we can to turn this vision into a reality.

A black and white cartoon drawing of a black person wearing a t-shirt and pants, and carrying a flashlight.

Art contributed by Jesse Blanchie.

  1.  For the record, I don’t love the term “blind hiring.” I’m a believer that language shapes our understanding of reality, and that we need to be cognizant about using ableist language. People are starting to work words like “lame”, “crazy”, “dumb” out of their vocabularies, and instead, just describing what they really mean.  Similarly, people often use the word “blind” when they really mean “oblivious”, “not knowing”, or “ignorant”. SO, I’m going to use the term “bias-reduced hiring”. Not catchy, but still accurate.

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