A Peek in the Looking Glass – Is Your Organization a Diversity Champion or Racial Profiler?

In an age of big data, it is rare to hear anyone (especially a dataphile such as myself) encourage you to hide data from yourself in order to be more successful. However, your organization adapting a change in process to do just that can impact the reaping of your diversity efforts by exponential degrees.

I was once told by a previous manager not to collect data if I was not going to use it. What!?! What if you need it later? Well, there is a difference between the strategy to not collect data points at all and the strategy to simply block them from view during a process step. So perhaps an amended code that we can agree upon during an initial screening process is not to VIEW data unless you intend to use it.

You have a vital position at your company that you are trying to fill. You have clear educational and experience requirements which you are applying in rubric form to your list of candidates. Where should the blindfold be placed?

First datapoint: NAME

If you currently can view the name during the application screening process, can you justify how you are using that name information to better inform the rubric? Amongst screeners, with human experiences of knowing people with similar names or racial/gender/ethnic/cultural/religions stereotype, the assumptions made about an applicant solely based upon their name can be a powerful distraction from qualifications or be a deal-breaker for candidates with similar credentials.

A 2015 study by researchers at Harvard, Northwestern University, and the Institute for Social Research in Norway studied by Vox Magazine utilized stereotypically white, African-American and Latino names and concluded that on average in the application process, “white applicants receive 36% more callbacks than equally qualified African Americans” while “[w]hite applicants receive on average 24% more callbacks than Latinos.” Removing names from screener view (at least during the application stages) reduces this type of bias.

Second datapoint: ADDRESS

Am I better equipped to excel in your open position if the address listed on my resume is in the downtown region? Gold Coast? Englewood? Evanston? Carbondale? Rock Island? Unless the position is centered around local community engagement, rarely would that datapoint matter.

According to a WGN Channel 9 2016 report Chicago is 3rd-most segregated big city in US:
‘Stephanie Schmitz Bechteler, the research and evaluation director at the Chicago Urban League, told the Tribune. “Where you live and where you grow up matters, and so does who you grow up around. It dictates where you go to school, the access you have to healthy business corridors, even your access to healthy food and job opportunities. All this is tied to address.” ‘

By taking the address into consideration, your organization’s hiring practices can actually unwittingly lead to you support Chicago’s cycle of segregation and to prevent Illinois residents overall from relocating for better opportunities. Your organization can serve as a barrier to individuals who have worked hard to achieve opportunities for themselves and their families and limit their economic advancement and ability to change addresses if they choose. Remove the intricacies of address from view unless the screeners agree that it is a highly relevant point.

Third datapoint: SCHOOL/COLLEGE NAME

You have 10 different colleagues. Do you know what each learned at their colleges versus internships vs full-time experiences? Do you review the curriculum from the different colleges? Engagement of industry at the colleges? Qualifications of professors?

If you take Chicago as an example, many of the more economically healthy neighborhoods have the more academically successful grammar schools. Those students are then tracked into the more academically successful high schools. Many colleges actively recruit students from the high schools with which they have built relationships. And then professionals hire people based upon their college. They get good jobs with good salaries and move into good neighborhoods to begin the cycle all over again.

What most of us probably know about a particular major at a college in which we did not attend is probably related more to the effectiveness of the college’s PR team rather than the academic rigor of the institution itself.

According to a 2016 study by Indeed, a major job sourcing online resource, there is a hiring bias depending on an applicant’s college which is very prevalent in entry level positions. Some quick addition of the number of managers who preferred to only hire from top institutions (29%) and the number who believed the college played a somewhat significant role in hiring (48%), gives us a total of over ¾ of hiring managers who were biasing their candidate selection with college names. Ultimately, this is a bias and not a predictor of performance, as the study’s executive summary states: “Only 35% of managers agreed that top performers generally come from top schools”.

Although we may strive to seek a more diverse workforce, if only candidates from limited sources are selected, then our potential to diversify will likely be stymied.

Altering the pre-screening process so that applicant ID’s are visible instead of these 3 datapoints (name, address, and school) will allow the screeners to focus better on the qualifications of their applicants rather than the stereotypes that even the most devout diversity champions of us may hold.

CHALLENGE TO INSPIRE CHANGE IN YOUR INSTITUTION:

Seek executive buy-in to pilot an amended process for the same position with two different sets of screeners – one group who can view these points and one group who only view applicant ID’s. We would love to know if the same candidates are selected for interviews!

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