Anyone who suspects they have been turned down for a job due to their race, sex, age, socio-economic background, or educational pedigree knows how unfair and frustrating it is to be discriminated against for something that has nothing to do with your capabilities.
But unfortunately, hiring managers — who typically get between 85 and 124 résumés for any given entry-level job opening — do it all the time.
Three entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to remedy the problem. They developed software that allows candidates to “blind audition” for a job, meaning employers know nothing about the the job seeker’s ethnicity, gender, age, or educational background when they review their application and decide whether to invite them in for an interview. Big companies like Dolby and Mozilla have already signed up.
It all started when Petar Vujosevic, 35, Kedar Iyer, 35, and Ashray Baruah, 38, met by chance in 2012. They quickly learned they had one thing in common: all three had trouble making the career moves they desired at some point in their lives because of “implicit biases associated with résumé screening,” Vujosevic tells Business Insider.
At the time, Vujosevic was working as a freelance advertising strategist in Holland, Iyer was a strategist at ad agency TBWA/RAAD in Dubai, and Baruah had just quit his job as a web developer in Dubai.
Upon meeting and discussing the fact they had all been victims of biased hiring, they decided almost immediately they wanted to do something about it — “and that’s how GapJumpers was born,” Vujosevic explains.
“It came from our desire to make hiring more about actual skills than keywords on a résumé,” Vujosevic says.
GapJumpers, which launched in June 2014, is a software platform that helps remove hiring bias through blind auditions.
“Our platform is a lot like the reality TV competition show, ‘The Voice,'” Vujosevic explains. “The judges have their backs turned away from the talent, and they decide whether to proceed to the next round based on the contestant’s vocal skills — not their looks, not their race, not their gender. The judges are not biased or influenced by anything other than the skills.”
A blind audition in the job search context means that applicants are “first judged on their skills, not on where they studied, where they grew up, or whether they are male or female,” he explains. GapJumpers asks each job seeker to anonymously solve skills-based challenges to prove they are qualified and capable of doing the job they’re applying for.
The software then strips each job applicant’s résumé and application of details like their name (which could reveal sex, race, and/or ethnicity), graduation year (which can give away age), college (which tells the employer what type of school you went to), and address (which could drive them to make assumptions about your socio-economic background).
The tool helps job seekers who might otherwise be overlooked, perhaps because they went to community college, or because they’re a woman seeking a job in a male-dominated industry, for instance. “GapJumpers also assists companies in finding the very best, most diverse group of talent,” which they might have missed out on due to unconscious bias, says Vujosevic.
Blind auditions, of course, are not a replacement for face-to-face interviews. They are simply a first step in the process, and a “better way to prepare applicants and employers for those in-person interviews,” he adds. “They make the quality of skills the first impression and point of reference, instead of the résumé.”
Since launching last year, he says he has seen a significant increase in awareness around the role of unconscious bias in the workplace.
For example, Google has started sharing its workforce demographics publicly. Google says, “All of our efforts, including going public with these numbers, are designed to help us recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people.”
“More executive leaders are acknowledging and trying to address the problem than ever,” says Vujosevic.
And they should.
The Washington Post’s Joann Weiner reported that global companies with at least one woman on the board have higher average returns on equity, lower debt ratios, and better average growth, according to a study of more than 2,000 global companies by the Credit Suisse Research Institute.
She also highlighted a Gallup survey of American retail and hospitality businesses, which found that gender-diverse retail and hospitality companies have better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender.
Weiner cited a Scientific American article by Katherine W. Phillips, professor and senior vice dean at Columbia Business School, saying “people work harder, are more creative, and are more diligent when they work with or around a diverse group of people.”
For these reasons, and others, GapJumpers already has seven clients on board — including Dolby Labs, Sendgrid, Chegg, and Mozilla — and is currently running live pilots with another six. It has an additional eight companies on the pilot waiting list that will be allowed on the platform in the coming months.
Companies pay an annual subscription fee, which ranges from $US5,000 to $US40,000, for the use of the platform and for access to GapJumpers’ candidate network. Some companies only pay for use of the platform to host blind auditions; others pay for both screening and sourcing.
If a company makes a hire using GapJumpers, there’s no additional “success fee,” which many recruiters charge.
GapJumpers is free for job seekers.
Of course, “blind auditions” aren’t beneficial to everyone. Some job seekers want hiring managers to see where they went to school, for example, which could help them land interviews and jobs.
But in the big picture, GapJumpers aims to help solve one of the biggest problems with interviewing, and seems to be making progress.
Vujosevic says the company recently analysed data from 1,200 blind auditions and learned that 54% of those who participated were women, while 46% were men. About 58% of those selected to an interview after the blind audition round were women, and 68% of those who ended up getting hired were women.
They also found that there was a 15% increase in the number of community college graduates who got to the in-person audition round by starting with a blind audition, compared to the number of community college graduates who land interviews by applying for jobs the traditional way.
“The biggest hesitation of employers, and biggest barrier, is that many companies know that improving diversity numbers takes a lot of effort, time, and commitment. And that is true,” says Vujosevic. “So with GapJumpers, we try to give you a way to start improving diversity with a small, managable behaviour change: instead of looking at résumés, give applicants a blind audition.”
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