Most companies say they want to attract a diverse workforce, but few deliver. The only solution may be a radical one: anonymity.


FEBRUARY 25, 2016

A few years ago, Kedar Iyer, an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, became acutely aware of a problem in his industry: A surfeit of talented coders were routinely overlooked by employers because they lacked elite pedigrees. Hiring managers, he thought, were too often swayed by the name of a fancy college on a résumé. To try to address the problem, he created a software company called GapJumpers, working with employers to create challenges for applicants that mimicked what people would do on the job. Companies using GapJumpers wouldn’t see candidates’ résumés, just their names, photographs and test results. In theory, this process would shift employers’ focus from résumés to skills. Then, two years ago, he came across an idea that caused him to rethink his business.

In the 1970s, symphony orchestras were still made up almost exclusively of white men — directors claimed they were the only ones qualified. Around that time, many began to use a new method of hiring musicians: blind auditions. Musicians auditioned behind screens so the judges couldn’t see what they looked like, and walked on carpeted floors so the judges couldn’t determine if they were women or men — the women often wore heels. The Boston Symphony Orchestra pioneered the practice in 1952, and more orchestras began using it after a high-profile racial discrimination case was brought by two black musicians against the New York Philharmonic in 1969. Researchers from Harvard and Prince­ton took notice and studied the results; they found that blind auditions increased the likelihood that a woman would be hired by between 25 and 46 percent. In fact, with blind auditions, women became slightly more likely to be hired than men. Confident that they would be treated fairly, female musicians started applying in greater numbers.