Blind Auditions – Answer to Diversity Hiring?

by | Nov 2, 2015 | Inclusion Matters | 0 comments


I was watching reality television after a long time and, to my surprise, was fascinated with it. The show – “The Voice” has a unique concept of blind auditions. The format of The Voice is that it will look at an artist’s singing capability and nothing more.

This is an adapted version of an American show which was extremely successful. In the American version, the competition begins with the aspirants doing a blind audition for a panel of celebrity coaches. The coaches have the backs of swivel chairs to the singers and listen to the voices. If they like what they hear, they hit a buzzer and swing their chairs around. If more than one judge likes a singer, the coaches have to try and convince the singer to join their team. Once each coach has put together a team, the teams and singers go head-to-head.

What I really appreciate about this show, after seeing shows like Indian Idol and Indian version of MasterChef, is that the focus is actually on talent. It isn’t about their looks or demeanour or clothes. There are no dramatic back stories of angst, depression or hardship. No dying mother, penury or thwarted dreams. All we are told is their music.

This kind of blind auditions is an interesting way to remove any kind of biases (conscious or unconscious) we might have while hiring any talent.

Unconscious biases affect every area of our lives. Unconsciously, we tend to like people who look like us, think like us and come from backgrounds similar to ours. Everyone likes to think he or she is open-minded and objective, but research has shown that the beliefs and values gained from family, culture and a lifetime of experiences heavily influence how we view and evaluate both others and ourselves.

These thought patterns, assumptions and interpretations – or biases – are built up over time and help us process information quickly and efficiently. From a survival standpoint, bias is a positive and necessary trait. In business, however, it can be costly.

Over the past few years, organizations have been focusing on diversity hiring programs with the best of intentions but limited success. While working as consultants for large corporations, we have worked on projects to increase the organization’s ability to acquire and develop more diverse talent and hence leading to more diverse customer base. The conversation with hiring managers have always been a challenging one. At a very basic level, it invites self and organizational reflection. For many this introspection creates guilt and defensiveness. A lot of it can be attributed to the inherent biases hiring managers might have.

At each stage of the hiring process, a candidate (or their resume) is subject to the filters and perceptions of those responsible for deciding who moves forward and who does not.

One of the most effective methods to prevent unconscious bias involves helping recruiters, hiring managers and other employees to recognize and overcome their unconscious biases. This process is the core of transformative learning, which “looks at how adults can identify, assess and evaluate new information, and in some cases, reframe their world-view through the incorporation of new knowledge or information into their world-view or belief system”.

The other way to combat it, the Stanford researchers found, is to create clear criteria for evaluating candidates before looking at their qualifications.

So while we might not be able to do blind auditions for hiring talent in corporations, but being aware of our biases and creating a standardized process for hiring might just be able to minimize the negative impact of biases.

Who says Reality TV can’t teach us a thing or two?

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