Can The Digital Economy Make Hiring Fair?

Danielle Beurteaux

We all like to think we’re fair, right?

So that makes us wrong about two things: We all have biases, and we think we don’t.

And that comes into play in situations involving hiring and compensation. No surprise. (At least there shouldn’t be at this point.) There have been tons of studies on variations on this theme.

There’s the name-on-the-resume studies, one of which found that resumes with non-white-sounding names on them were selected less than those with white-sounding names. Or another, more recent study which showed similar results – fewer “applicants” with African-American-sounding names were called in for interviews, and they were rarely called in for positions that involved customer interactions.

There are have been studies showing how “people assume that their own beliefs and introspections are, by definition, valid and therefore worthy of being acted on,” which can lead to discrimination. People think they’re being logical without recognizing the implicit problems with their beliefs.

One set of researchers studied companies that emphasized meritocracy and how executive-level and equally performing men and women were compensated. The males were awarded more money than their female counterparts. The researchers termed this the “the paradox of meritocracy.”

So how can the digital economy help change this?

It’s well known that once orchestras began using screens during auditions the number of women musicians who won seats in prestigious symphony orchestras increased. Recruiting start-up GapJumpers is using the same approach – although they’re using television show “The Voice” as a model. As described in this The Atlantic piece, the company uses online challenges to winnow job candidates. The results so far? Interesting. According to the company’s website, almost 60% of the best candidates are female.

They’re not the only company that’s trying to shake up the hiring process. HackerRank helps recruiters find good programmers with its online coding tests (it also has coding challenges for those wanting to improve their skills). As one of the company’s founders told Fortune, one motivation was to focus on skills over degrees, schools, and other factors that usually influence candidate selection.

One hiring manager who used GapJumpers to fill a new position was surprised that his top pick was a community college alum.

Entelo is another recruitment software startup. It offers Entelo Diversity, which uses the company’s own algorithm to try to make a dent in the diversity problem. In this case, recruiters can search using multiple criteria, including gender and race. Entelo’s Jon Bischke told The Wall Street Journal that technology is doing what recruiters do anyway, and that he hopes the product will help diminish discrimination.

Technology could be the solution to the hiring bias problem, and there’s certainly plenty of competition as diversity – as in, lack of – has become a big topic recently. In the UK, a new “name blind” government initiative has big companies, including Deloitte, KPMG, and HSBC, promising they won’t ask school graduates for names during the application process.

Will this trend become widespread? Maybe not – but we already know that computers are better than humans at hiring.

Hiring is step 1. Retaining top performers is step 2. Learn what experts say are the keys to Great Workplaces: Trust, Engagement, Simplification, and Millennials.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.