The case for anonymising job applications to preempt hiring managers from making biased decisions — whether consciously or unconsciously — has a lot going for it. Image Credit: Getty Images

Dubai: You are applying for a job and are advised to follow what’s trending in the US and UK: a blind CV.

No name, age, gender and nationality mentioned on your resume. Only your qualifications and a vision statement. Would that help you get picked?

The case for anonymising job applications to preempt hiring managers from making biased decisions — whether consciously or unconsciously — has a lot going for it.

But there are also drawbacks, say experts in the UAE.

“The practice of blind CVs began because of the prevalence of the sub/unconscious bias concept and how [it] influences us in making decisions,” says Marco Blankenburg, International Director of KnowledgeWorkxx, Dubai, who has been creating ‘intercultural’ environments for UAE businesses for nearly two decades.

Emeline Roisetter, Founder-Professional Coach, MomentuM Coaching and Consulting, who has been based in Dubai, for over a decade, says: “There is a real push to do better in terms of discrimination, gender equality and equal access to career opportunities. This push is coming from different society movements that have a huge impact on the way businesses and countries are run.”

How did the concept of blind recruitment begin?

“It started with orchestra blind auditions in the music industry a very long time ago. But the concept came back more recently for the recruitment of IT/digital/coding and hacking profiles in the Sillicon Valley,” says Roisetter.

“In the 50s, the world of professional musicians was dominated by male musicians. So when musicians did their auditions, the first thing that was revealed when they walked on stage was their gender,” says Blankenburg. “The Boston Symphony Orchestra was the first to put up a screen between the evaluators and the person doing the audition and they discovered that the number of women hired went up with 25-26 per cent.”

Are any firms in the UAE adopting the practice of blind CVS for recruitment?

“Not at the moment,” says Blankenburg.

“I never came across this practice in the UAE,” says Roisetter.” But I would imagine some multinationals who do practice it worldwide would do the same here.”

Both experts however believe that if the practice has to catch up in the UAE, it must be preceded by certain attitudinal shifts in companies.

“It was only recently that recruiters are no longer allowed to mention nationality requirements on their job postings,” says Roisetter. “Most salary grids are still based on nationalities and most job postings are not transparent on packages. While men tend to get family packages, women are rarely offered the same allowances and benefits. My point is, a lot of policies and procedures need to change at an organisational level in order to end discrimination and bias. Only then the UAE will be ready to introduce Blind CVs.”

Many organisations [around the world] try to implement blind CVs as a plaster for a bleeding wound, says Blankenburg. A number of issues are equally important and need to be addressed. “Equipping recruiters on unconscious bias and on how to design more culturally neutral interviews, design interculturally smart behavioural interviews and assess candidates in a more culturally neutral manner, is not easy,” he says. “It is often assumed that recruiters have the skills needed to do their job well. It is hard enough to recruit in a more mono-cultural world; it is even harder in a multi-cultural environment.”

Blankenburg believes the DNA of organisations needs to to be transformed first so that they can receive the type of diversity that will be short-listed as a result of implementing blind CVs. “Recruiting professionals will need to be trained to develop their own Inter-Cultural Intelligence and inject that into their profession. The other big elephant in the room: inequality in pay based on ethnicity and gender is still huge in the region.

“As long as the salary gaps have not been closed, blind CV’s will not work,” says Blankenburg.

The two experts highlight the many issues around recruitment, the role of the curriculum vitae and the challenges and advantages of blind resumes.

Photo, age, gender and nationality in a CV: are they critical evaluators?

Roisetter: “[These] can help in evaluating the core attributes of the candidate and understand whether or not this could be a good personality match for the role, the team and the organisation.

Blankenburg: For some cultures the photo is very important because it is the belief that you can ‘read somebody’s face and eyes’. Unfortunately, a photograph also unleashes subconscious biases like: age, gender, nationality and sometimes also religion. Nationality is important because of the huge salary differences that are determined by [it].

‘Unconscious bias’ in hiring: a reality?

Roisetter: “At the end of the day, recruitment is about humans choosing other humans. So there is always an unconscious bias. Decision-makers want to hire people they like, people they can see themselves work with in the same office 8h a day for the next 3 to 5 years. They want to ensure the new recruit is a good fit for the company brand, values and culture. All these have very little to do with competencies and the job itself, simply because you can teach aptitude but you cannot teach attitude and adaptability.”

Blankenburg: “In most cases, subconscious biases are triggered through photo, age, gender and nationality. But the problem is: if these are removed through practicing blind CV submission, the screeners will start looking for other conscious or subconscious ways to screen… so it doesn’t take away the problem.”

Blind CVs: pros and cons

I believe blind CVs are a quick fix to a much bigger problem. It is a tool that can support discrimination/bias-free recruitment, but it won’t end discrimination and bias on its own. Organisations must first make the necessary changes internally before introducing blind CVs.

- Emeline Roisetter

Pro-blind CV folks need to realise that we will NEVER get rid of unconscious bias, too much of our brain is dedicated to the subconscious. At the same time, we need to create both processes and organisational cultures that allow us to diminish the impact of negative biases.

- Marco Blankenburg

How does diversity promote productivity?

Blankenburg: Diversity in and of itself doesn’t promote productivity. You need to add two other ingredients: Places of diversity that ALSO have a high percentage of intercultural learners and ALSO have developed a company DNA that makes room for diversity. These [companies] typically have the following characteristics:

High trust.

High levels of information sharing.

More vibrant Innovation & Adaptability

Effective problem-solving.

Stronger teams.

Synergistic environment.

Strong corporate culture.

Higher retention of talent.

Roisetter: “It can help an organisation revamp their processes and way of working to come up with new products and services that will cater to a larger client pool and open doors to more partnerships and business opportunities in a global context.”

CVs and their relevance

“Today, CVs are not as helpful as they used to be,” says Blankenburg. “In the fourth industrial revolution, companies are mainly looking for 10 key skills (Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum) and if possible, they want to know if a candidate can use those skills in an intercultural environment:

a. Complex problem solving.

b. Critical thinking.

c. Creativity.

d. People management.

e. Coordinating with others.

f. Emotional Intelligence.

g. Judgement and Decision making.

h. Service Orientation.

i. Negotiation.

j. Cognitive Flexibility.

Most CVs still list education, and things the candidate has done. But writing a CV that shows you are able to turn these competencies into value for your employer, is relatively new. It takes the focus away from “what” you have done to “how” you did it and “why”.

CV applications, says Roisetter, are not the main recruitment channel. “They actually make a very small percentage of how talents are recruited. Organizations prefer to hire people whom they already know as part of their network, they prefer to recruit through referrals and recommendations. Posting an ad and looking at random CVs is actually the last thing organisations like to do. In this context, Blind CVs are a good idea, but won’t make much of a difference.”

What are the best hiring practices for companies?

Emeline Roisetter:

1) Have clear job descriptions and salary packages that do not imply a gender/age or a nationality (happens more often than you think).

2) Ensure the hiring process is focused on Adding Value rather than Fitting in.

3) Conduct panel interviews with a diverse pool of interviewers for each candidate.

4) Ask the right interview questions. Most decision makers have never been trained to run successful interviews, it is important they are equipped with the right questions and techniques.

9) Check candidates’ backgrounds and references.

10) Have an on-boarding process.

Marco Blankenburg:

1) Some companies outsource the recruiting process up to shortlisting; this will create a more neutral selection process.

2) Recruiters need to learn what it means to “Hire into a culture” through using culture and competence-driven behavioral interviewing. Think the analogy of ‘joining a tribe’. Would this candidate add to the positive formation of our tribe?

3) Recruiters need to developed their own competence in recognizing unconscious bias and need to become Inter-Culturally Intelligent in how to conduct their job.

4) Organisations need to critically look at their DNA. How welcoming would they be if a ‘different’ person would be hired into a role that was traditionally filled by a stereotypical candidate?