Should we run a blind recruitment process? It’s a question that I get asked regularly.

A blind recruitment process means removing the candidate’s name and any other identifying factors from applications. These include age, address or location, years of experience, and school or university names.

Blind recruitment is useful in reducing bias in graduate, entry level, skills based or technical roles. The whole concept started with orchestras, where they have now successfully addressed discrimination against women. Blind auditions are proven to get 50% more women successfully through to final stages. It’s as simple as holding an audition behind a screen, and all candidates take off their shoes to reduce the risk of heels clicking on floorboards. To make blind recruitment work you must take into account every detail.

For senior and board appointments however, it hinders the process more than it helps. The disadvantages far outweigh any supposed benefits of trying to reduce bias.

When blind recruitment fails

In fact, I find depersonalising the process of recruiting people in leadership roles an odd concept. When team, cultural considerations (including the often-needed requirement to drive culture change as well as finding an alignment of values) and leadership qualities are important, the blind process fails.

As a senior level recruiter, I work hard to identify and engage the right people to apply for leadership roles. This means researching people and testing their values fit before encouraging them to apply. Having worked hard to attract candidates, should I then take a non-advisory role when you’re selecting which applicants to interview? Why would you want to ignore the insights gained from early interactions?

And there are other problems.

Most organisations trying to remove bias will only choose to remove some of the identifying factors. The process then is neither blind nor open: simply bizarre.

Recruitment software that can receive and process the applications make blind processes more robust, but applicant tracking systems are rarely user-friendly, and candidates prefer not to use them. Are we risking putting candidates off before they apply with depersonalised automated processes?

As a candidate I wouldn’t want to be part of a skills-only matching process. I want people to know who I am and to be interested in me as a person. Why leave out the details to get through the door at the early stage, only to find out in interview that they don’t want somebody like me later? I’d rather not waste my time. Let me spend my valuable time finding organisations that appreciate my human qualities.

I read Asif Sadiq MBE and Sana Butt’s excellent article at the weekend on ‘How NOT to recruit diverse talent’. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it, they talk about how organisations need to step back and take the lens off diversity-specific recruitment strategies – and actually show candidates who they are:

“We must learn to become better at being genuine and authentic. We should ask questions, be honest and vulnerable.”

I acknowledge that we all have bias, but recruitment is a process of recruiting a human being. Statistics suggest that ‘Steve’ may get more interviews than ‘Stephanie’ and ‘Michael may get more than Mohammed’, but just removing identifying factors is not solving the issue.

For me, becoming increasingly aware of our biases is the key. As is more focus on inclusion and a higher appreciation of the value of diversity.

What does a blind recruitment process actually guarantee?

The best recruitment processes focus on finding difference. At Peridot, we’re ultra-aware of our potential bias and work hard to be inclusive and open-minded. We challenge bias in others. A blind process cannot challenge bias. A good hire will have considered a person’s background, culture, attitudes and perspectives. Hiring people who can contribute positively to the culture and the team is critical. We don’t just want people to simply do a job, do we?

We need to stop running scared of bias and be confident in the recruitment processes that we run. A focus on internal culture and inclusion would better serve us all. If you can’t be confident about promoting an inclusive culture, you’ll never be diverse. Those people who bring difference will be hard to retain, should you be lucky enough to get them to join you in the first place.

And where are the guarantees in a blind recruitment process? We once ran a blind process which selected an all-white, male field of candidates. All the diverse candidates failed to progress to interview. We had worked hard to develop a diverse field of candidates and the blind recruitment process worked against it.

Non-disabled people tend to get disproportionately more opportunities than disabled people. As do white men, who have often had the chance to acquire more skills and experience than lesser represented groups. This means that people who haven’t been able to access opportunities will be discriminated against, even if they have more potential, motivation and could bring more to the role. The blind recruitment process at a senior level favours traditional groups, which is counter intuitive to the aim of broadening diversity.

Does blind recruitment hide internal biases?

If you are concerned about your recruitment panel having a bias, why not address the problem, by having unconscious bias training?  Don’t put a dressing over the issue with a blind recruitment process.

If you are worried about your panel being biased or discriminatory, what makes you feel like someone with a difference would be able to thrive in your team?

I’d like to leave you with the experience of my colleague Bill.

Bilgin once applied for a job used his full name, Bilgin Yuksel, and was turned down. In feedback, the CEO said Bilgin’s English was excellent for his second language.

Bilgin is British and has lived in the UK all his life and only speaks English. He feels that being turned down was better than having to waste his time working in an environment where people were making inappropriate assumptions about people.

If this were a blind recruitment process, he might have got an interview and perhaps an offer, and the issues might not have come out of the woodwork until too late.

I think that people should be proud of their names, backgrounds and heritage. After all, it’s what makes them unique and different. Stripping that away for the benefit of a recruitment process, rather than taking positive action to manage bias, feels wrong.

Instead, I’d rather help those recruiting to appreciate diversity and understand their biases. That way they can manage bias and actively promote inclusivity and the benefits of diversity.

About the author:

Grant Taylor is Managing Director and Founder of Peridot Partners, a values-led executive search agency.