Would you decide which job candidates to interview based on their names or decide which ventures to fund based on entrepreneurs’ gender or physical attractiveness?
Few managers would admit doing so, even to themselves. But research shows that decision makers are in fact susceptible to exactly this type of bias. Identical resumes sent in response to job postings are less likely to generate a callback for an interview if the name at the top suggests the candidate is black.
Female entrepreneurs face harsher questions from potential investors and are less likely to have their ideas funded than men. Generally, this body of research demonstrates that the fairness of social evaluations, such as whom to hire, invest in or promote, can be adversely affected by irrelevant and seemingly innocuous attributes, like name or appearance, because of the biases they evoke.
How might these judgments be made more equitably?
The logic is straight-forward. An evaluator cannot be biased by irrelevant information about a target of evaluation (for instance, a job candidate’s name) if that information is hidden from view.
It is for this reason that Justice is typically depicted wearing a blindfold: The blindfold ensures the impartiality of her decision-making. Over the past several years, researchers have studied both the benefits of and the barriers to blinding in the context of organisational evaluations like hiring decisions and performance reviews. More specifically, they have explored the factors that might influence whether evaluators will choose on their own to use a strategy of blinding in their evaluations.
In the absence of organisation-wide blinding policies that strictly limit the information people can incorporate into their decisions, policies that are rare and sometimes hard. One way to reduce the potential for bias and increase objectivity is to adopt a decision-making strategy called blinding — that is, limiting the information that can be considered in an evaluation.
We have found that managers and other evaluators can make fairer and more accurate assessments by proactively blinding themselves to information about a person that could cause bias about a target of evaluation.
Evidence that blinding works
By ensuring that only relevant information is available to the evaluator, blinding reduces the likelihood that an evaluator’s judgement can be contaminated or distorted by stereotypes and other forms of unconscious bias.
In a classic example, major symphony orchestras in the United States used blinding to counteract the prevailing negative stereotypes about women in the music world and increase gender diversity.
Blinding strategies can also be used in other organisational settings to increase the fairness and objectivity of evaluations that may otherwise be susceptible to bias and distortion. For instance, some experiments have assessed the impact of anonymous hiring, a policy that conceals candidates’ names from hiring managers.
This research demonstrates that if job applications are stripped of identifying information, members of underrepresented social groups (ethnic minorities and women) become more likely to advance to the interview stage and, in certain cases, ultimately receive job offers.
Adapted from an article by Sean Fath, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University’s ILR School, Richard P. Larrick Hanes Corporation Foundation Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Jack B. Soll professor of management and organisations Fuqua. Susan Zhu