We may think we don’t discriminate, but many of us are guided by our unconscious biases, snap judgments that happen without us realizing them.

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When I was younger, I would look out the window when the teacher took attendance, using her pen to tick off the kids in class that day.

“Die-ya,” she said.

“Here,” I replied and sank deep into my seat. As a child, having your name mispronounced hurt. But what happens as an adult, when your name hurts your chances of earning a fair living?

I realized the professional impact when my husband, Adam, was asked to lead a conference call one day. He was told people would take him more seriously because of his name. The privilege is undeniable. A 2003 field study from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that résumés bearing names associated with whites got almost 50 percent more callbacks than those associated with African Americans.

We may think we don’t discriminate, but many of us are guided by our unconscious biases, snap judgments we make without realizing it.

This justifies the need for systems to support better decision-making. Blind recruitment is the act of removing name, gender, age and educational background from applications to reduce bias and improve diversity.  In the 1970s and 1980s, symphony orchestras found that blind auditions resulted in more women being hired.

For most people, though, life isn’t an orchestra — and blind recruitment alone won’t get us very far. Yet in combination with the following cultural suggestions, we may get one step closer to equity in the workforce.

Hiring for growth versus fit. Organizations should be hiring for who they want to be instead of who they are. One solution is to have a roster of everyone’s strengths and take inventory of what is missing, using it to guide the organization’s hiring.

Investing in company equity. Even with blind recruitment, face-to-face meetings will eventually happen, allowing hidden biases to creep back in. Companies should make diversity and inclusion a part of their mission, supported by top management and deeply embedded throughout the organization.

Valuing lived experiences. What companies need to do is diversify their definition of an ideal candidate. One way to do this is by developing an interest in the experiences not traditionally captured in recruiting processes. What has the applicant done outside the workforce? Where have they lived? What obstacles have they faced? All companies can benefit from these unique perspectives.

Even still, the truth is that most jobs are landed through networks and personal referrals, a practice we need to challenge to allow blind recruitment to really have meaningful impact.

Diya Khanna, columnist for Seattle Times Explore
Diya Khanna, columnist for Seattle Times Explore

Blind recruitment is not perfect, but it will help us usher in a broader range of applicants, who may impress us in ways we wouldn’t expect.