Could Blind Hiring Be the Solution to Increasing Diversity at Agencies?

FCB and DDB weigh in

In September, HP sent a letter to its agencies asking for a detailed plan on how each would up its diversity quotient within 12 months. A month earlier, General Mills had mandated its agencies to have at least 50 percent women and 20 percent people of color working on its accounts. Other marketers such as Verizon have followed suit, and now agencies are scrambling to find a solution.

Some have turned to a practice already used by technology companies like Google: blind hiring, which seeks to remove any identifying factors—name, gender, ethnicity and even education—from the initial round of interviews. The hope is that it will take away a hiring manager's unconscious biases and keep them focused on the candidate's talent and not be influenced by where they come from or went to school.

"For us, it's all about how do you take out bias anywhere you can," said Cindy Augustine, global chief talent officer, FCB. FCB is one agency, alongside others including Dallas-based Levenson Group, to test blind hiring. To date, FCB has activated the program in its Health office in New York, as well as in Chicago, for a select number of positions, including strategy and analytics, with plans to open the program up across the network in the next three to six months.

FCB tapped tech platform GapJumpers, which allows employers to ditch resumes and instead post challenges for potential new hires online. These challenges test the perspective employee's skills through something similar to a brief, but more pointed at the position that person applied for. Levenson Group, for example, asked prospective creative content writers to attract young drinkers to vodka over whisky or tequila using Instagram.

To date, GapJumpers has conducted over 1,200 blind auditions and recorded, through working with companies including Google and Dolby, measurable results. Nearly 60 percent of the top performers have been women, proving the service can get a more diverse group through initial rounds of hiring.

Through working with GapJumpers, Levenson Group chief product officer Paul McEnany said the agency hired a female candidate with no agency experience or no marketing degree. "I'm not even certain we would have interviewed her in the first place," said McEnany.

Singleton Beato, evp, diversity and inclusion for the 4A's, praised platforms like GapJumpers, likening it to hit TV show The Voice where coaches evaluate contestants based on talent, not appearance.

"All the data that you have is whether or not you believe that person is talented. When you turn around, then you have committed to help that person on their journey and to progress," said Beato.

Other agencies like DDB have yet to launch blind-hiring programs but are in the process of activating them through unconscious bias training. "If you can take the unconscious biases out of the hiring process, then it's worth testing," said Dawn Fitch-Mitchell, director of supplier diversity at DDB Worldwide.

While some agencies see the benefit of blind hiring as a means to increase diversity, others argue it's just one piece of a much larger puzzle. "You can't have it for a select group or one role you're hiring for," said Marie-Claire Barker, global chief talent officer, MEC. "What happens when that person walks in here for that interview and when they actually get the job and are in the building? Are they actually included in the culture and what we are trying to do?"

Beato argued that in order for blind hiring to help change the industry's diversity problem, agencies must be willing to commit to more than simply changing their hiring practices.

Added Beato: "You've got to make sure your culture is ready, and everyone is trained to enable diverse talent throughout the talent journey."

This story first appeared in the November 7, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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