How to Avoid Bias when Hiring Product Designers

Chris Meeks
October 8, 2019

Hiring bias is a problem in almost every industry. Those responsible for making hiring decisions make a series of subconscious judgments about “fit” before ever even talking to an applicant.

This is not only an ethical issue: it’s a business issue. Product designers that bring diverse life experience to the table will see problems from different perspectives. This helps design organizations avoid blind spots and account for every kind of person.

Solution: Blind skill evaluations

In the modern world, almost every major technology platform has focused on the core concept that a user has a profile. This builds a sense of identity for a user as they navigate a product, which is extremely important if you want them to stick around. Of course, the obvious path is to expose identity in every product, so that users can present themselves to the world and build their social network, but this approach has perpetuated the bias issue. Anonymous social networks aren’t the solution either, as they are breeding grounds for abusive behavior, as is evidenced by communities like 4chan.

When it comes to hiring, seeing someone’s name and avatar as a first impression makes cultural bias unavoidable. This is not new. Bias happens in every corner of the world and tools have been developed to prevent bias. Which tool is the best? Blind skill evaluations.

What is a blind skill evaluation?

A blind skill evaluation is essentially withholding information about a person until their work has been reviewed and evaluated. By withholding information that can communicate: race, gender, sexual preference, and disability until after it’s appropriate, hiring platforms can drastically reduce their bias.

Organizations still need to evaluate a candidate’s personality, but the key difference between blind skill evaluations and the current model is that hirers will have assessed skill in advance of the impacts of bias. This forces them to rethink how they evaluate candidates and focus on the work more than other factors.

Where do we start?

To eliminate bias, we need to reconstruct how we think about hiring processes. This starts with an organizational acknowledgment that bias exists and a dedicated effort to reduce it. Once an organization is primed for change, they need tools and processes to create that change.

1. Create a hiring process that reduces upfront bias

First, an organization needs to look at their end-to-end hiring process and identify stages that are subject to significant bias. Upfront bias is the most important part of the funnel to attack because it occurs as you make first impressions. First impressions are extremely powerful and have the ability to dominate our perspective about an applicant.

2. Modify the top of your applicant funnel to anonymize attributes

If your organization is committed to certain technology platforms, have a different person in your organization collect all resumes and appropriately anonymize aspects that refer to name, image, race, gender, sexual preference, disability, and more.

These resumes will still have the candidate’s experience and accomplishments. Without the disruptive veneer of a person’s profile, hirers can focus on those accomplishments and score them appropriately.

When hiring product designers, this can often be difficult because portfolios are separated from resumés. Regardless, hirers with ingenuity can find a way to anonymize portfolios by downloading the content and uploading it into an anonymized system so that applicants can be uniformly evaluated.

I’ve thought a lot about the impacts of bias on hiring and have created a blind skill evaluation system in Product Designers. Organizations won’t see content about a product design applicant until after they’ve reviewed their design exercise and submitted their review score and feedback. This prevents upfront bias and encourages companies to provide valuable feedback to design applicants while mitigating any potential concerns about identity being a factor when turning down an applicant.

Want a systemized way to reduce upfront bias when hiring product designers?

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