In the U.K., Deloitte will stop looking at what school job applicants attended
By Jena McGregor September 29, 2015
Could making interviewers blind to college pedigree help boost diversity?
Resumes say a lot about job candidates: where they've worked, what they've accomplished, how long they've stayed put on the job and, of course, where they went to school. While employers may think that last piece of information tells them something about applicants' intelligence and capabilities, it also creates a huge potential for bias about the person's background and level of affluence.
To try to correct that problem, Deloitte's U.K. business announced that it will begin using a school-blind hiring process to help address unconscious bias. As it recruits its next crop of 1,500 entry-level employees and junior associates out of school—roughly half of the 3,000 employees it hires each year in the United Kingdom are new graduates—the professional services firm plans to "hide" education pedigree from its recruiters and interviewers up until an offer has been made, unless the applicant actively chooses to disclose it.
Deloitte also plans to use software from the diversity recruitment firm Rare to compare applicants' grades against standardized data. The software, which is already in use in the U.K. at more than a dozen major law firms, reveals how applicants performed relative to their peers within their school, an effort to help better contextualize candidates' abilities.
The move comes after the U.K. office of Ernst & Young, another global professional services firm, said last month it would no longer require new hires to meet baseline grade averages, and would instead use its own tests to judge candidates. It also comes amid an ongoing conversation about how to improve diversity in the corporate ranks, and a booming interest in unconscious bias training in the corporate suite.
Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte U.K., said she got the idea after hearing about academic research that showed how bias can start long before the candidate is sitting across a desk in an interview. Recruiters often "will have a particular profile in mind," she said. "The bias is actually unconscious, so we really need to go further back in the process to the sifting phase," when recruiters are screening out individuals to present to hiring managers.
Recruiting and diversity experts say Deloitte U.K.'s move to hide educational info across its entry-level hiring is unusual. Rather than simply treat the symptoms of the problem through awareness and training, it attempts to prevent such bias from happening in the first place.
Though rare, Deloitte's interest in this approach isn't unique: A growing number of companies are considering making blind interviews or screenings part of their hiring process, and even more are using software tools or anonymous contests to surface candidates who might otherwise be missed.
"This is not a commonplace practice," said Molly Anderson, a consultant on talent and diversity issues who, coincidentally, formerly worked for Deloitte. "But a bunch of companies are interested and trying to figure it out."
For instance, software from a startup called Unitive hides candidates' identifying details, such as race, gender and some educational data. Another software firm called GapJumpers hosts "blind auditions" rather than blind interviews, getting applicants to post solutions to industry-specific problems rather than share their resumes—and keeping personal details anonymous.
"It's really indicative of how powerful it is having that resume in front of us, coloring our perceptions of people’s capabilities," Anderson said.
Whatever the advantages, Deloitte's move also raises some questions. Master Burnett, director of strategy for BraveNewTalent, warns that hiding demographic details in the recruiting process still needs to be accompanied by training to help remove underlying biases. "Some managers won't hire you because of the pitch of your voice," he said. "What many organizations are doing is increasing the diversity of the candidate slate, but not increasing the ability to manage the diverse workforce."
Some are also likely to wonder how to draw the line between where bias ends and pertinent information begins. While much research has shown little connection between job performance and academic records, hiding what many still see as a proxy for a junior employee's capabilities could bring controversy. Diversity is important enough that companies will likely give that educational data up, Anderson said, but "some people do consider it a reasonable criteria of whether a candidate has the required capability and competence."
Deloitte's Codd doesn't see disadvantages in losing details about applicants' educational pedigree. In addition to ethnicity and gender diversity, "social mobility" is a big challenge when hiring in the United Kingdom, she said. "We have clients with really complex problems, and we need diversity of thought and get people with very different life experiences together."
She adds that this effort could produce faster improvements to its talent pool than drawn-out culture change programs on bias and diversity would. "They’re much slower to see an impact," Codd said. "I think we will absolutely see the benefit of this within a year."
Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.