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DoD eyes blind recruiting-type technology for promotions

The Pentagon may investigate blind recruiting-type technology to remove bias from the promotions process. It wants to improve the diversity in its officer ranks.

The push for diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring has led to blind recruiting technology. These systems mask data such as name, race and gender and can strip photographs from candidate resumes and profiles. The Dept. of Defense is considering applying this type of technology to its promotions process after finding shortfalls in the military's diversity.

In a just-released report, the Dept. of Defense (DoD) said its military personnel is more racially and ethnically diverse than the U.S. population, but found that "officers are significantly less racially and ethnically diverse than the enlisted corps." The report was produced by the DoD Board on Diversity and Inclusion, which was created earlier this year by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper to examine diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the military.

The report recommended multiple actions to improve diversity in the higher ranks, including some specific guidance for HR. It sees a need for increased use of analytics "to identify patterns and trends of prejudice and bias." This includes analyzing job promotions, recognition and retention policies, as well as other practices related to employee career events.

The DoD report also recommended investigating blind screening technology for its job promotions process. These tools mask or anonymize key identifiers about a job candidate and are used heavily in recruiting, but not in promotions.

The pentagon is not the only employer struggling with DEI issues.

"Almost everybody thinks diversity, inclusion are important," said Claude Werder, senior vice president and principal HCM analyst at the Brandon Hall Group, a research and analyst firm in Delray Beach, Fla. But where these efforts come up short is in their actual implementation, he said.

Claude Werder, senior vice president and principal HCM analyst, Brandon Hall GroupClaude Werder

The year's social upheavals are promoting an "accelerated evolution" in diversity, Werder said. But businesses face a "significant gap" in results, according to a survey of 400 firms released this week by Brandon Hall.

About 90% of the firms said that diversity and inclusion "is an important business driver." But only 32% said their organizations address pay and transparency issues by gender, race and ethnicity. And only 23% said the diversity of leadership reflects the composition of the workforce. Of the firm's surveyed, 60% had 5,000 employees or more.

Improving in diversity and inclusion takes robust and focused leadership, Werder said.

A cultural change

"If you're going to be a diverse and inclusive organization, and you haven't been in the past, it is a significant cultural change," Werder said.

Blind recruiting technologies can help mitigate unconscious bias, Werder said. But "the number of organizations that are using the technology is still small," in the range of 20%, he said.

Blind recruiting systems are a feature in applicant tracking systems. They mask gender, race, age, college affiliation -- aspects about candidates "that might lend information regarding whether they are a person of color," said Yolanda Chase, chief diversity officer at the Washington Technology Industry Association, an industry group in Seattle.

Yolanda Chase, chief diversity officer, Washington Technology Industry AssociationYolanda Chase

But tackling DEI issues includes addressing a range of topics, including training and sourcing candidates, Chase said.

"The ecosystem of hiring extends way beyond just recruiters," she said. It includes advertising, brand awareness, benefits packages as well as connections to community organizations and college associations. It's about "really building a robust ecosystem of partners that can help you attract diverse talent," she said.

She also imagines an ongoing evolution in masking technologies, such as remote interviewing technologies that can mask a person's characteristics and voice.

The DoD's efforts may help the private sector build out its HR tech offerings, Chase said. The DoD might subcontract the work to a business to help build the technology.

"The private sector may benefit from what the military may pioneer," she said.

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