A Harvard study proposes an odd solution to eliminating gender bias from the hiring process

The Equality Act, revisited by the House of Representatives back in May, 2019,  prohibits US firms from surveying a candidate’s potential on the basis of sexual orientation, race, age, gender identity, religion, pregnancy, childbirth, and/or disclosed medical conditions.

Although the new, consolidated-amendment promises incremental change over the ensuing decade, no single policy solution can hope to correct every instance of institutionalized discrimination. 

According to a new study published in Harvard Business Review, female applicants dramatically increase their chances of employment when they obscure their gender during the hiring process.

“Using archival data, we examine the effects of the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee (HST TAC)’s decision to adopt a dual- rather than single-anonymous review process. The change involved removing, to varying degrees, information about the Principal Investigator (PI) with the goal of reducing bias against women,” the authors write.  “We found that male reviewers rated female PIs significantly worse than they rated male PIs before, but not after, dual-anonymization was adopted.”

Barring direct instances of maltreatment, unlawful prejudice is often exercised via established professional pretenses. A mandated push for inclusion all on its own isn’t enough to improve the majority of corporate ecosystems in the US, because the culture at large is still halved on what defines a level-playing field.

The researchers set out to determine how the landscape changes when organizations remove protected characteristics from the equation, discovering a much more diverse horizon when disciplines are governed by a true meritocracy.

Blind applications and the future of work

The authors employed The Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee to animate their thesis. Just about 15,545 applications were reviewed between 2001 and 2018.

In 2014, The Committee observed a troubling deficit of successful proposals forwarded by women in relation to the volume submitted annually.

As of 2020, women represent a modest 28% of the science and engineering industry. This demographic is often paid less, receives less funding, and are cited less often than their male counterparts. 

The preliminary actions instated on behalf of The Committee involved removing names from the front page of applications. The success of doing so proved to be limited, so the institution decided to remove all identifying characteristics from submissions while, concurrently, instructing evaluators to consider the strength of each proposal, irrespective of the superficial properties of the author.

Before anonymization, male candidates were the more likely of the genders to have proposals accepted by the Committee.  However, when female applicants removed their name and any remaining instructive sex characteristics from their submission, the inverse was found to be consistently true. In other words, blind applications better-positioned academicians to privilege quality work.

“Our recently published research confirms that anonymizing can mitigate gender bias in the review of scientific research applications. Specifically, we found that when indications of candidates’ gender (such as their first name) were removed from applications for time on the Hubble Space Telescope, women were selected at a higher rate than when their gender was obvious,” the authors said in a press release.

The intention of Civil Rights legislation extends beyond day to day interactions. When systems are devised without certain groups in mind, said groups are put at an inherent disadvantage when trying to assimilate.

The new study presents an interesting contrast between purported values and actual execution. Diversity politics has been the flavor of the last four elections but the workforce has never really reflected this. Blinding application is an inspired solution, no doubt, but its success speaks volumes about the miles that separate the US and egalitarianism.

“Research has shown that gender diversity promotes scientific creativity and innovation. Furthermore, lower success rates for women in science represent a shortcoming in social justice and reduce role models for young women, perpetuating the lack of women in the pipeline,” the authors concluded.