Why Putting On Blinders Can Help Us See More Clearly
Even if your organization doesn’t have a “blinding” policy for hiring and other people evaluations, it’s possible to reap some of the benefits.
Would you decide which job candidates to interview based on their names — or which ventures to fund based on entrepreneurs’ gender or physical attractiveness? Few managers would admit doing so, even to themselves. But research shows that decision makers are in fact susceptible to exactly this type of bias. Identical resumes sent in response to job postings are less likely to generate a callback for an interview if the name at the top suggests the candidate is Black.1 And female entrepreneurs face harsher questions from potential investors and are less likely to have their ideas funded than men (particularly attractive men).2
Generally, this body of research demonstrates that the fairness of social evaluations — such as whom to hire, invest in, or promote — can be adversely affected by irrelevant and seemingly innocuous attributes, like name or appearance, because of the biases they evoke. How might these judgments be made more equitably? One way to reduce the potential for bias and increase objectivity is to adopt a decision-making strategy called blinding — that is, limiting the information that can be considered in an evaluation. The logic is straightforward: An evaluator cannot be biased by irrelevant information about a target of evaluation (for instance, a job candidate’s name) if that information is hidden from view. It is for this reason that Justice is typically depicted wearing a blindfold: The blindfold ensures the impartiality of her decision-making.
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Over the past several years, we have studied both the benefits of and the barriers to blinding in the context of organizational evaluations like hiring decisions and performance reviews. More specifically, we have explored the factors that might influence whether evaluators will choose on their own to use a strategy of blinding in their evaluations. In the absence of organizationwide blinding policies that strictly limit the information people can incorporate into their decisions — policies that are rare and sometimes hard to implement — these personal preferences are important to understand. We have found that managers and other evaluators in organizations can make fairer and more accurate assessments by proactively blinding themselves to potentially biasing information about a target of evaluation.
1. M. Bertrand and S. Mullainathan, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” American Economic Review 94, no. 4 (September 2004): 991-1013; and M. Bertrand and E. Duflo, “Field Experiments on Discrimination,” in “Handbook of Economic Field Experiments,” vol. 1, ed. A. Banerjee and E. Duflo (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 2017), 309-393.
2. D. Kanze, L. Huang, M.A. Conley, et al., “We Ask Men to Win and Women Not to Lose: Closing the Gender Gap in Startup Funding,” Academy of Management Journal 61, no. 2 (April 2018): 586-614; and A.W. Brooks, L. Huang, S.W. Kearney, et al., “Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 12 (March 2014): 4427-4431.
3. T.D. Wilson and N. Brekke, “Mental Contamination and Mental Correction: Unwanted Influences on Judgments and Evaluations,” Psychological Bulletin 116, no. 1 (July 1994): 117-142.
4. C. Goldin and C. Rouse, “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians,” American Economic Review 90, no. 4 (September 2000): 715-741.
5. O. Åslund and O.N. Skans, “Do Anonymous Job Application Procedures Level the Playing Field?” ILR Review 65, no. 1 (January 2012): 82-107; A. Krause, U. Rinne, and K.F. Zimmermann, “Anonymous Job Applications in Europe,” IZA Journal of European Labor Studies 1, no. 1 (December 2012): 1-20; and M. Bøg and E. Kranendonk, “Labor Market Discrimination of Minorities? Yes, but Not in Job Offers,” Munich Personal RePEc Archive, paper no. 33332 (Munich: Munich University Library, 2011).
6. GapJumpers (www.gapjumpers.me) is one such company; Applied (www.beapplied.com) is another.
7. D. Bortz, “Can Blind Hiring Improve Workplace Diversity?” HR Magazine, March 20, 2018, www.shrm.org.
8. J. Dooney, “Huh? We’re Switching Back Again? How Centralized and Decentralized HR Department Structures Influence HR Metrics” (Alexandria, Virginia: Society for Human Resource Management, 2016), www.shrm.org.
9. S. Fath and S. Zhu, “Preferences for, and Familiarity With, Blinding Among HR Practitioners,” Social Science Research Network, Jan. 17, 2021, https://papers.ssrn.com.
10. K.I. van der Zee, A.B. Bakker, and P. Bakker, “Why Are Structured Interviews so Rarely Used in Personnel Selection?” Journal of Applied Psychology 87, no. 1 (March 2002): 176-184; and J. Dana, R. Dawes, and N. Peterson, “Belief in the Unstructured Interview: The Persistence of an Illusion,” Judgment and Decision Making 8, no. 5 (September 2013): 512-520.
11. A. Acquisti and C. Fong, “An Experiment in Hiring Discrimination via Online Social Networks,” Management Science 66, no. 3 (March 2020): 1005-1024; and V. Bartoš, M. Bauer, J. Chytilová, et al., “Attention Discrimination: Theory and Field Experiments With Monitoring Information Acquisition,” American Economic Review 106, no. 6 (June 2016): 1437-1475.
12. G. Loewenstein, “The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation,” Psychological Bulletin 116, no. 1 (July 1994): 75-98.
13. S. Fath, R.P. Larrick, and J.B. Soll, “Blinding Curiosity: Exploring Preferences for ‘Blinding’ One’s Own Judgment,” Academy of Management Proceedings 2020, no. 1 (August 2020).
14. Fath, Larrick, and Soll, “Blinding Curiosity.”
15. van der Zee et al., “Why Are Structured Interviews So Rarely Used.”
16. L.A. Rivera, “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms,” American Sociological Review 77, no. 6 (December 2012): 999-1022.
17. S. Fath, R.P. Larrick, and J.B. Soll, “Encouraging Self-Blinding in Hiring,” unpublished manuscript.
18. Bertrand and Duflo, “Field Experiments on Discrimination.”
19. Fath, Larrick, and Soll, “Encouraging Self-Blinding in Hiring.”
20. The Profile of Dogs browser extension is available on the Google Chrome web store. We are agnostic about the possibility that people may be biased in favor of or against certain dog breeds.
21. Loewenstein, “The Psychology of Curiosity.”
22. Fath, Larrick, and Soll, “Blinding Curiosity.”
23. Wilson and Brekke, “Mental Contamination and Mental Correction”; and E. Pronin, D.Y. Lin, and L. Ross, “The Bias Blind Spot: Perceptions of Bias in Self Versus Others,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28, no. 3 (March 2002): 369-381.
24. Fath, Larrick, and Soll, “Encouraging Self-Blinding in Hiring.”
25. F. Dobbin and A. Kalev, “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” Harvard Business Review 94, no. 7 (July-August 2016): 1-20.
26. I. Bohnet, A. van Geen, and M. Bazerman, “When Performance Trumps Gender Bias: Joint vs. Separate Evaluation,” Management Science 62, no. 5 (May 2016): 1225-1234.
27. Fath, Larrick, and Soll, “Blinding Curiosity.”
28. R. Feintzeig, “The Boss Doesn’t Want Your Resume,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 5, 2016, www.wsj.com.