In the early 1970s, only one in twenty people in the top five US orchestras were women. Now that figure is more like one in three.
As Harvard Professor Iris Bohnet explains in her book on ‘what works’ to reduce gender inequality, one of the reasons for this shift is the way that US orchestras approached their recruitment. Selection processes used to involve seeing as well as hearing the musician.
Despite the belief that hiring decisions were based on a musician’s skill alone, ‘unconscious bias’ resulted in men often being given the roles.
Then blind auditions were introduced. Musicians could now be heard, but a screen prevented them from being seen. It had a dramatic effect upon hiring decisions. Women were now being judged on their musical skills, and were much more likely than before to be chosen.
A few years ago, the Behavioural Insights Team wanted to see if we could learn from this research and change the way we ran our own recruitment practices. We introduced ‘name blind’ recruitment processes, removing names of individuals from application forms.
But as we got deeper into the literature, we realized that the problem required a more fundamental solution. And with the support of our partners at Nesta, that led to the development of a nascent online platform, which in 2016 was turned into the first BI Venture.
The platform – Applied – led by Kate Glazebrook and Richard Marr, transformed BIT’s recruitment process through dozens of changes to the standard hiring practice.
Alongside name-blinding, for example, the platform randomizes the order in which different reviewers mark individual questions. This is because reviewers typically give the first application a higher mark than those that follow.
Applied has just reached two historic milestones. The first is how many people are now using the platform to remove implicit bias from their hiring decisions. 50,000 people have now applied for jobs through the platform.
The second is that Applied has just completed a £1.5m fundraising round, led by Blackbird Ventures, that will enable it to scale the platform over the coming two years. The Behavioural Insights Team will remain a shareholder in the company.
We are delighted that Applied, through which BIT has itself recruited around 100 people, continues to be able to support lots of other companies to remove bias from their own hiring decisions.