Whenever I’m involved in a discussion on inclusive hiring practices, whether it’s a panel or a forum discussion or a one-on-one conversation, there is always someone who urges me (or the audience) to simply take the names off resumes for initial screening to prevent any conscious or subconscious assumptions.
“It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works — now the hiring manager has no idea if they’re hiring Joe, Jane, José, or Jamal. They can see the person for who they are!”
The idea is that hiring managers are not calling back candidates based on an unconscious bias they don’t know they have linked to names because of their gender or ethnicity. And there’s been data to back this up. People with African-American sounding names have to send 15 resumes before they get a response, compared to just 10 for white sounding names. Easy to pronounce names are favored over difficult names. Women are less likely to be brought in for interviews on STEM jobs than men. Even in faculty mentoring at colleges, Asian sounding names got far fewer responses to requests for mentorship than white names.
There’s loads of research to back up this claim of unconscious bias in hiring practices. The solution seems pretty simple and actionable. Just take the names off.
My response to this suggestion: that’s stupid, don’t do that.
Taking names off resumes may work as a blunt force instrument in getting women or people of color into the interview chair. It also may not, and it may set these people up for failure in a way that increases the unconscious bias in the eyes of the interviewer. Your organization’s lack of diversity is not going to be solved by tricking someone into hiring a black person.
There are two big problems with this “blind recruiting” hiring practice. The first is that it doesn’t take into account the broad societal advantages or disadvantages that different types of people may have had that affect their resume. The idea of privilege deserves a more nuanced discussion than I’m going to offer here, so I’m going to simplify my argument a lot to make a point.
To focus on one little narrow part of this, look at the wage gap in our country. White women make 78 cents for every dollar that men do. But how about women of color? Black women make 64 cents on the dollar compared to white men, and hispanic women make 54 cents. As a result, one could draw a conclusion that the sons and daughters of those women might not have the same opportunities as a white person.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am not saying that all people of color are disadvantaged poor people, and I am not saying that all white people have every opportunity granted they may ever need. I’m just looking at statistics and I’m thinking that these statistics might mean that a 19 year old white kid at college is more likely to be able to spend time on extracurriculars through financial support from their parents because their white moms and dads are more likely to make more money compared to other races for doing the exact same work.
A conclusion I can draw from this is that a white kid’s resume is more likely to be padded with extra stuff that edges out their competition. They were able to do that one extra internship, or be president of that club, and that looks good under their work experience and education compared to a black kid who had to work part time to get through school. So when we are assessing resumes blindly, we are not giving the applicant the context they deserve in their evaluation. Does that internship really set that one person apart? Does the person who worked part-time instead not bring something unique to the table from their experience as well? These are discussions worth having with candidates who present an interesting picture. Our evaluations of people as potential employees needs to evolve.
The other big problem with blind evaluations is it’s not just a name that can give an indication of a person’s gender or race. A candidate might lead their school’s NAACP chapter. Or be a member of Women in Film. Or a Planned Parenthood volunteer. Or you know, whatever other deserving organizations might have certain attachments to them. The solution to this must be to erase those things too. How about the applicant’s city too? Let’s erase that in case it’s a traditionally black neighborhood. Pretty soon we’re scrubbing resumes of all the unique things that add up to make a whole person.
Wouldn’t you say we’re already erasing minorities and women enough?
Fewer than 20% of editors in Hollywood are women. Until recently, fewer than 40 active ACE members were people of color. Considering the film industry is an intersection of tech and creativity, it’s worth noting that Silicon Valley has been fighting against revealing their diversity numbers.
When you scrub away the things that make up a person’s life and trick a hiring manager into speaking with them and you get them hired into your organization, it sounds like a win anyway. Your company’s “diverse hires” go up and that little box on your org’s website about demographics looks better. But here’s the thing you’re missing: having a diverse team is great for business, but creating an inclusive environment for them is how they will continue to succeed.
Erasing a person’s identity and using cheap tricks like blind recruiting does not make your organization inclusive. The unconscious bias that would have kept them out of the first interview because of their name remains part of the company’s culture. As a result, these people are entering an environment that is not prepared to help them climb the ladder and stay in the employment pipeline. And because of that, many of them will face more challenges than their white, male counter-parts.
Each minority group has its own set of challenges that spring from assumptions and stereotypes and society expectations. Needing to push through those challenges on top of actually doing one’s job — and doing it well, because if you’re the only latino man or woman in the room you’re conspicuous and held to a higher standard — can be exhausting. Sometimes these work environments are even outright hostile. Without addressing the root of why there is unconscious bias against different kinds of names, you aren’t really changing your company culture for the better.
Sure, in some companies it might be true that you get enough “diverse” people in the door with blind recruiting and they stick around long enough to change the company culture with their mere presence. But that’s fairly unlikely, especially in the fast-paced world of post production where many people move through positions quickly anyway. Our industry has been dominated by white men for the entirety of its modern existence, and that’s not because men are more qualified. It’s because they’re now considered the default, often the path of least resistance. Particularly in post where people are hiring quickly, the least resistance can be really important. Change sucks and things are well enough, so why bother thinking differently?
Here’s why you should bother. Patagonia (the outdoor company) wanted to give new moms an opportunity to stay with their company. A lot of companies tend to think “I’m not going to hire women in their late 20s and early 30s because they’re just going to have babies and leave anyway.” Patagonia’s solution was to look at what women need at work — on-site child care and paid parental leave — and give it to them. They didn’t do it because they wanted to retain top talent or because they were losing too many people, but they did it because it was the right thing to do.
As a result, Patagonia has retained 100% of new moms over the last five years at their company. 50% of managers are women, and 50% of senior leaders are women. Retaining employees costs a company less and allows people to climb the ladder in a company they know well. Work-life balance is prioritized by the younger generations who are choosing companies to work for based on those benefits. A diverse workforce is proven to increase a company’s profitability.
But above all else, it’s the right thing to do.
Inclusive hiring practices are not easy, because they are born from inclusive work environments. The idea of blind recruiting has been so embraced by so many because it’s actionable and tweetable and makes a great slide at a conference. But making an inclusive work environment is the right thing to do, and judging resumes after they are scrubbed of anything “extra” is the wrong thing to do. Instead of making the doorway alone more accessible to different kinds of people, you need to make sure the actual room is a place where people are going to want to stay. And that means talking about this stuff a lot, listening even more, and making changes to the way your company works on a fundamental level, in a way that works for your company.
In a few weeks, I’ll be on a panel at the NAB Show in Post Production World about Creating Inclusive Work Environments, Sunday April 23 at 4:30. If you’ll be at PPW, I invite you to attend this session. If you’re not, I would love to discuss inclusiveness with you at your convenience.