Hey, Bosses, Never Lock Eyes on Your Employees!

Hey, Bosses, Never Lock Eyes on Your Employees!

By Carly Stern


Unbiased judgment plummets the minute your boss sees you.

By Carly Stern

Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton sit in red chairs with their backs turned to aspiring singers. After hearing a voice they like, the judges press a button and their seats swivel toward the performer. “I want you” flashes at the contender.

Today, some workplaces use this The Voice–style model for hiring in a bid to reduce unconscious bias in recruitment. This helps prevent recruiters from knowing a candidate’s age, gender, race and sometimes even their names. This gets people in the door, but these policies do nothing for the retention and advancement of women and people of color beyond the hiring stage. So it’s time we take diversity and inclusion to the next level — by instituting blind evaluation, management and promotion of employees. 

Women are underrepresented at every step of the corporate pipeline — and women of color in particular confront the most obstacles while experiencing the least support, according to last year’s Women in the Workplace study for LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company. Their research showed that only 29 percent of Black women believe the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees. 

To take such bias out of the picture, all managers should be made blind as to their directs.

Research from the University of Delaware last year also shows that men are seen as leaders when they generate ideas for improving teamwork, while women tend to remain static after proposing similar solutions. Even in performance-based pay careers like stock brokering, men are assigned more profitable elements of the portfolio, according to a 2012 report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School — even though women perform just as well with equivalent accounts. 

So let’s take bias out of the picture and make all managers blind to their directs. Employees can either work in solitude, from home or via simple workplace innovations granting them anonymity. In fact, some institutions already have online performance management systems and are attempting to extend blind processes to performance management, according to Alexis McGill Johnson, executive director and co-founder of Perception Institute. 


And for an even-keel response to ideas? Workers could anonymously submit ideas before meetings, enlisting a third party to read them aloud. This will allow management to focus on the substance, rather than the source of the idea. Stephen Garcia, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, suggests that salaries be disclosed by job title — while masking the identities of earners — in a bid to promote fair compensation as well.

Admittedly, there are hurdles. New research released last month by the Association for Psychological Science shows that “color-blind” workplaces can actually have negative implications for minorities’ outcomes, if the policies enable white staffers to wrongly see themselves as nonprejudiced. Meanwhile, research by MIT’s Emilio Castilla shows that workplaces with merit-based reward systems have been shown to compensate women and minorities less than white men, and when managers believe their companies are meritocratic, they’re more likely to exhibit the biases these systems aim to inhibit.

In truly blind workplaces, people would also miss out on the diversity of understanding how others’ backgrounds influence their decision-making, says Kate Ratliff, executive director of Project Implicit. Removing social aspects from a workplace would isolate people. 

Blind management also treats the symptoms of prejudice, rather than its disease. So a results-oriented approach also must be coupled with long-term interventions, and organizations like Perception Institute help companies develop muscles to de-link existing stereotypes.

“You’re changing the decision-making environment in a way that could lead to a fairer outcome without actually doing anything to the underlying bias,” Ratliff says. But true color-blindness is a flawed aspiration, Johnson says. Instead, employers must first acknowledge that implicit biases exist in the workplace. Policies, in other words, can’t replace the need for challenging conversations; they must instead go hand-in-hand.

While imperfect, blind systems are worth deploying in the name of progress — so long as workplaces commit to thoughtful execution. Blind résumé reviews and hiring are a great way to get performers their first big break. But blind management can help gifted contenders advance through the next rounds of competition so that the most talented voices are heard.

What better time to change the tune?