Should More Accounting Firms Use ‘Blind’ Methods to Improve Their Diversity?

I like the idea of blind recruiting that this WSJ story discusses. Not knowing a person’s name or alma mater forces “hiring managers [to] form opinions based only on that person’s work,” therefore reducing the likelihood of nepotism, favoritism, racism, basically any negative -ism you can think of. This results in, you guessed it “more diverse hires.”

Rising interest in anonymous hiring reflects the growing awareness of unconscious bias, attitudes or stereotypes that affect decisions. Research on unconscious bias has shown that information like a person’s name can affect how they’re viewed and subtly prompt managers to make unfair decisions.

A 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that faculty members rating lab manager applications deemed a male candidate more worthy of being hired than a woman with identical credentials.

Accounting firms are trying this, most notably, Deloitte, who is recruiting 1,500 college grads in the UK, redacting the applicants’ schools and  using “contextualised data” to “address unconscious bias.”

The Journal article explains:

Instead, applicants take a battery of tests to measure skills like numerical reasoning and critical thinking, says Emma Codd, managing partner for talent there. Deloitte does review applicants’ school exam results, but those results are put into context by a company called Rare Recruitment Ltd. that can show, for example, whether a student with an average score overall outshone peers at her school.

“We’re making sure the playing field is truly level,” says Ms. Codd.

Later this year, Deloitte, along with other organizations in the U.K. like HSBC Bank PLC, KPMG UK LLP and the British Broadcasting Corp., will remove candidates’ names from some job applications, though Deloitte hasn’t yet figured out how it will work.

“It’s going to be very difficult,” Ms. Codd says, acknowledging that a person’s gender and ethnicity will become obvious after initial interviews and screens. “I can’t imagine how you’re going to do the interview without referring to someone’s name.”

It’s not that hard to imagine if you try. Interviews will just be far more awkward than they already are. Like so:

“Hello, interview subject #57. My name is Caleb.”

“Uh…hey Caleb! Pleased to meet you. I’m –”

“Ah! Let me stop you right there. We have a strict policy of not learning anyone’s name during the interview process. I’m going with 57 because at lunch today there was Heinz 57 Sauce on the table. I haven’t seen that stuff in years!”

Unconscious bias is one of those things that you can’t really prevent because, uh, it's unconscious! Sure, redact a person’s name or redact their school, but what’s next? Disguise their voice1 and face? Redact their genitals?

Maybe!

A study through the Clayman Institute of Gender Studies at Stanford found that the number of women musicians in orchestras went up from 5% to 25% since the 1970s—a shift that happened when judges began auditioning musicians behind screens so that they could not see them.

How could an accounting firm do this? The Stanford study has an idea:

[C]reate clear criteria for evaluating candidates before looking at their qualifications. They found that gender biases in choosing between a male and female candidate for a police chief position, for example, were reduced when those making the selection had set up criteria before reviewing applicants. Welle sites [sic] the study as a case for standardizing interview questions. "Make sure all people answer the same exact questions," he says. "All the research out there shows unstructured interviews are the worst way to make a hiring decision."

Given the accounting profession’s struggles with diversity, especially at the partner level, I doubt that blind methods could hurt their efforts.

But you guys can try to shoot down this idea if you like. Frankly, accounting firms should be willing to try anything at this point. Discuss.

1 I’d recommend this for the district attorney in Making a Murderer. There’s nothing unconscious about my bias against that guy's voice.

Have something to add to this story? Give us a shout by email, Twitter, or text/call the tipline at 202-505-8885. As always, all tips are anonymous.

Related articles