As part of my work over the past couple of decades I routinely interviewed people for various roles. Sometimes they were part-time, minimum wage retail positions and sometimes they were senior managers who would be responsible for a multitude of objectives.
(Side note: that thing about knowing within 12 seconds whether you want to employ someone has an element of truth to it, first impressions are important and hard to counteract).
For a few of those years our recruitment team did a brilliant thing. Before sending the applications to us for shortlisting they removed all identifying information from them.
All human beings have unconscious bias, even those of us who try to always be aware of them and battle against them. Just as with temptation, the consequences of unconscious bias are easier to avoid when you remove the triggers for them. By not having (possibly foreign sounding) names, dates of birth (too young…too old…too ‘not the same age as me’…) or addresses (wrong part of town) on the application forms it enabled the people who were deciding who to interview to only look at the applicants suitability for the role, NOT whether they were the same as us in ways that make us comfortable, but that reduce the diversity of our teams.
I love diversity. At work I actively sought it out because it has been proven, time and time again, both scientifically and by my own experiences, that having a more diverse team results in a wider range of strengths and skills. It turns out to usually be more profitable too. Personally I love diversity because I get to learn things from people who have utterly different perspectives from me.
I was privileged to witness the lightbulb moment people had when they heard from a respected colleague about how some are treated differently because they need adjustments in a world build for only the able-bodied. That’s how we learn.
Unfortunately, a few years later the software system that people used to apply for roles on was ‘upgraded’ and it was no longer able to remove the identifying info. At this point I think I started to annoy a few people because I had found a new bug-bear to start banging on about.
Nowadays I don’t have to sit around, waiting for no-show interviewees or spend all day interviewing people I know I don’t want because I want to offer the role to the first person I saw. Nowadays I find my non-identifiables as the commenters on other people’s blogs.
Of course, I choose whose opinions I read very carefully, I wouldn’t want to accidentally start reading the comments on YouTube videos or anything. Finding people who take the time to craft their comments, or whose comments are full of spelling mistakes because they were so desperate to agree, disagree or educate, but that I know nothing else about is wonderful. I am utterly unconcerned about their height, weight, skin colour, age, ability and every other thing we are taught is important, but that is really not. All I know is what they think about the subject of the post, at that point in time. Maybe they are in the process of learning themselves, maybe they are professors of the subject and are setting the blogger straight. The lessons and mistakes that come from their brains are the important bits, not the body or economic class or country or gender those brains happen to inhabit.
People give themselves away in the written word, it is often easy to guess some of someone’s identity from what they have posted or listed on an application form, but those things are secondary to what the words say. In the real world identifying information smacks you in the face as soon as you see or speak to someone. Every prejudice and bias rushes to the front of our minds to warn us that this person is dangerous or unworthy, and that is what we must battle against, because more often than not it is simply untrue.
When you actively listen to people and believe them when they describe their lives as being different to yours, when they tell you about experiences you have not had, then not only does it become easier to battle your unconscious biases but your entire world expands.
I for one would rather have a bigger, slightly scarier, life than a small, comfortable one full of lies.