When Google released its diversity numbers for the first time in 2014, the results were disturbing, especially for female and minority jobseekers. The data revealed a lack of diversity so stark that the company introduced the report by stating plainly that Google was, “not where we want to be when it comes to diversity.”
At the time, only 2 percent of Google’s employees were black, and 3 percent were Latino. A whopping 70 percent of the company’s employees were men. Google blamed the inequity on a “pipeline problem,” or a lack of qualified women and minority candidates applying for roles at the company. The inequity, to paraphrase the report, was not due to bias on the part of Google’s recruiters and hiring managers, rather a failure on the part of women and minorities to achieve the appropriate degrees needed to work at Google.
The “pipeline problem” has been used frequently over the years to excuse tech’s disappointing diversity numbers, and not just by Google. Facebook also released it’s first workforce demographics in 2014, which were nearly identical to Google’s. Two years later, despite a pledge to do better (and the company offering sweet incentives to its recruiters for bringing in female and minority hires), not much had changed. The company’s 2016 diversity numbers revealed that the number of Hispanic and black employees at Facebook has remained stagnant. Female employees now make up 33 percent of Facebook’s workforce, an increase of only 2 percent from 2014.
Because of numbers like these, some critics are calling for sweeping changes in how companies hire, including new recruiting systems that promise to reduce or even eliminate bias through blind hiring practices. Several companies have stepped up to develop such products and to help companies – in the tech industry and beyond – keep applicants on a level playing field.
GapJumpers, which works with companies like Dolby Labs, Chegg, Adobe, Pivotal Labs and BBC Digital to improve diversity in their hiring processes, is one such company. Co-founder Petar Vujosevic and his team have developed talent acquisition tools that are designed to delay the “big reveal” of personal information that could potentially introduce bias into the hiring process. This, he believes, helps create more inclusive workplaces and will be key to helping companies develop into bias-free organizations.
“Bias in talent acquisition exists,” he said. “…Talent [acquisition] can be influenced by subjective decision making, so we as a company are always asking ourselves how we can build tools and design solutions that somehow make that decision-making process more objective.”
In 2016, GapJumpers released some impressive numbers: using conventional resume screening, only about a fifth of applicants who were not white, male, and graduates of elite schools made it to a first-round interview. Using blind auditions, however, 60 percent did.
It works like this: GapJumpers’ tools put performance ahead of the traditional resume by allowing companies to offer applicants open-ended questions, the responses to which are then calculated and scored. Hiring managers review results and see plainly which applicants have demonstrated the most solid understanding of the questions posed on the application. It’s basically a blind audition for the job. Only after qualified applicants have been identified are the details of their resumes revealed to the hiring manager, thereby eliminating unconscious bias in the screening process.
“Very simply stated, a lot of companies still use the resume as the initial test as to whether somebody is good [for a role], but the resume is something that can trigger bias,” Vujosevic said. “A candidate’s name, ethnicity, and gender all paint a picture of the candidate.”
Even seemingly innocuous resume items like education can be tricky, he added, explaining that the names of certain colleges and universities, for example, could shape a potential employer’s ideas of a candidate’s promise.
GapJumpers’ tools are just one of several that have been employed by companies in recent years to help mitigate bias. Another product, Blendoor, developed by Stephanie Lampkin, was born in direct response to Lampkin’s own experience with a well-known Silicon Valley company.
“The common rhetoric from these companies is that this is a ‘pipeline problem,’ which I personally knew not to be the case.”
– Stephanie Lampkin, founder of Blendoor
Lampkin, who has an engineering degree from Stanford and an MBA from MIT, recalls making it through several rounds of interviews only to be told her background wasn’t “analytical enough.”
“The common rhetoric from these companies is that this is a ‘pipeline problem,’ which I personally knew not to be the case,” she said. “I had experienced the effects of bias first hand so I wanted to create an app that could easily connect recruiters with diverse talent and also produce the data to show that it’s not just a pipeline problem, but that there were more factors going into these [diversity] numbers.”
Lampkin’s company Blendoor, which she founded in 2015, is a blind recruiting app that hides candidate names, photos, and even ages, to mitigate bias in the hiring process. Specifically, the app works during the sourcing process, which Lampkin called the “top of the funnel.”
“We give companies an applicant’s profile and data and we generate a ‘fit score,’ which compares their qualifications to the job description. We show things like skills, degrees, and previous work experience, without names, photos or dates that might indicate age.”
Both Blendoor and GapJumpers address bias in the screening process, but what happens after a candidate is called in for a face-to-face interview? Couldn’t bias creep in at that point?
Yes, Lampkin concedes. However, she believes that only so much anonymity is healthy in the hiring process.
“I always tell people, it’s a slippery slope because you can’t have people come in and interview with a trash bag on. I mean, eventually identity is revealed,” she said, adding that face-to-face interviews are a good and necessary part of the interview process. A completely blind hiring process, she said, could put jobseekers into uncomfortable environments.
“I think that if you take anonymization too far you run the risk of bringing people into companies that don’t support a culture of diversity,” she said.
Tools aside, both Lampkin and Vujosevic agree that real diversity in hiring and recruiting calls for a more aggressive approach towards holding companies accountable for poor diversity numbers.
“It’s about accountability. Right now, there really isn’t any governing body or a third-party or even huge media or public pressure to push companies to change their diversity numbers,” she said.
What Blendoor and GapJumpers are doing, she said, is tracking behavior and dragging what is actually happening in the hiring process out into the light. Whereas before it was easy to disqualify a woman as being inexperienced, or a person of color as being a “bad culture fit,” these blind hiring tools are making a case for a candidate’s competence prior to meeting the hiring manager. To further help the cause, Lampkin is also developing a product called BlenScore, which will rank the diversity number of different companies to show which are walking the walk and which are simply talking the talk.
“Sometimes when you look at the resources that are being allocated to one issue versus another you have to wonder, on your list of priorities, how does diversity actually rank?”
–Petar Vujosevic, co-founder of GapJumpers
While he agrees, Vujosevic believes that progress will be slower than some people hope. Recruiting and hiring is a business where human interaction is at the core. Dealing with humans, and the speed at which humans change, he said, can be a slow and frustrating process, especially when combined with the breakneck speed of business.
It’s easy for a CEO to make a public declaration of diversity in hiring, he said, but often looming deadlines and other priorities get in the way.
“The actual day-to-day life of a manager is really [about having] a seat filled with someone who is capable and who is doing the work as fast as possible,” he said. “So the message from the top doesn’t always trickle down. Recruiters have pressure on them to fill roles. Managers are getting pressure to finish projects… so sometimes diversity messages don’t get internalized by everyone in an organization… That is one thing that companies still need to work on – how do you make diversity and inclusion a part of everybody’s life? How do you make every stakeholder feel included?”
Vujosevic fantasizes about what would happen if leaders like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Cook all devoted six hours of their week to thinking about how to implement inclusion strategies into their companies.
“I wonder if companies would make a lot more progress in that scenario, and I think the answer is yes,” he said. “Everyone is trying; I don’t think anyone out there has bad intentions. But sometimes when you look at the resources that are being allocated to one issue versus another you have to wonder, on your list of priorities, how does diversity actually rank?”