Blue Switch Consulting
Talent Optimisation Consultant


Commentary and Analysis

How to Stymie Your Biases (Yes, You're Biased!)


Why blind applications are best practice



In 2003, a group of Harvard MBA students were given a study about a real-life entrepreneur, Heidi Roizen. Half of the students received a study with Heidi’s real name, the other half received the same study, but Heidi’s name was changed to Howard. The students were then asked to report on their assessments of Heidi/Howard. Overall, they rated Heidi and Howard as equally capable, but their considered Howard a more appealing candidate. Heidi was perceived as “selfish” and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” In other words, Heidi was competent, but not likable. The competence/likability dilemma is one way implicit bias prevents us from fairly assessing skills and abilities.


Evidence proves we are all biased. If you believe you are a rare human being who exudes equity and fairness, without a biased bone in your body, or even if you consider yourself to be reasonably unbiased, I challenge you to take Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test and prepare to be humbled.

I recently took the “race” portion of the Implicit Bias Test and was surprised to find I “moderately prefer white people over black people.” I am biased.

In fact, bias is an evolutionary adaptation. According to Drs. Martie G. Haselton and David C. Funder, it has been essential for the propagation of our intensely social species that we be able to make interpersonal judgments that help us “avoid enemies, form useful alliances and find suitable mates.” However, the same adaptation prevents us from making more nuanced assessments. 


Orchestras are biased. In the 1970s, American orchestras featured only 5% female musicians. Today, that number is closer to 30%. What has accounted for the increase in female representations? Curtains. And shoeless auditions.

In the 70s, orchestras began asking their applicants to audition behind a curtain or screen, so that gender bias could not skew judgment of musicianship. While the curtain made a difference, the biggest change came when applicants took their shoes off (and judges could not identify a woman by the tap-tap-tap of her heels).

Research has shown that by implementing the screened auditions, women auditioning are 50% more likely to advance to finals.


 By implementing a blind application, you’re de-biasing a procedure, not people.

You’re achieving a desired outcome (access to 100% of the talent pool, increased female representation) without attempting to modify behaviour or beliefs.


Blind application processes are being used by forward-thinkers in a variety of industries, from Samatha Bee for her late-night comedy show, to J. J. Abrams’ production company. (Abrams has a policy that requires each department be representative of the gender and racial breakdown of American society, which is roughly 50 percent female, 12 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic, and 6 percent Asian.)

Hiring bias, of course, does not just discriminate against women, but many other groups as well. In addition to sexism, ageism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, classism and racism can all affect hiring practices. And again, if you don’t think these biases apply to you, take the Implicit Bias Test.

Blind application processes don’t only protect against biases, they also eliminate phenomenon such as the “halo effect” and the “beauty premium.” (The “halo effect,” coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike, is activated when an individual’s assessment of another is coloured by a positive initial impression. The “beauty premium” is the proven phenomenon whereby more attractive individuals are more likely to be hired/retained/promoted, etc.)

The Victorian government in Australia began trialling blind applications in 2016 to overcome hiring bias. PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) uses the technique to increase their chances of hiring the best candidate for the job, as do Deloitte, Ernst&Young, and Dow Chemical. Many universities are also now using blind applications to select from prospective students.

…discrimination still persists. It’s no longer signs on doors that say: ‘no blacks allowed’; it’s quieter and more subtle discrimination…
— David Cameron


Make it a requirement of the application process that candidates blind their own documents to indicators of race, age, gender, ethnicity, etc. They might replace their name with a unique number provided during the application process, and they replace any gendered pronouns with third-person-plural pronouns. This would be the most basic and most flawed approach, given not all applicants will be as skilled at identifying and removing information that might trigger stereotype bias.


Have members of your HR team trained in blinding applications.  Blind applications are then passed on to hiring managers. Although this method will likely increase consistency it remains somewhat labor-intensive for the organisation.


Online platforms such as Talent Sonar and Applied offer subscription services for the use of their programs. Their platforms blind applications for demographic details. They also offer features such as job-description aids (which will assist you in writing gender-neutral job descriptions) and horizontal assessment tools and structured interview builders. GapJumpers is another service provider. They used their own blind audition method to “create one of the most diverse start-up founding teams.” Google, Dolby and Mozilla are among their users.

The biggest hesitation of employers, and biggest barrier, is that many companies know that improving diversity numbers takes a lot of effort, time, and commitment. And that is true … improving diversity [starts] with a small, manageable behavior change: instead of looking at resumes, give applicants a blind audition.
— Peter Vujosevic, co-founder GapJumpers

© Dr Kristen Liesch 2017. All rights reserved.


Jessica Bennett, Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (London: Portofilio Penguin, 2016).

F. Flynn & C. Anderson, Heidi vs. Howard: An Examination of Success and Likeability (New York: Columbia Business School, 2003).

Martie G. Haselton & David C. Funder, “The Evolution of Accuracy and Bias in Social Judgment,” in Evolution and Social Psychology, ed. Mark Schaller, Jeffry A. Simpson, and Douglas T. Kenrick, 15-38 (New York: Psychology Press, 2006).