16 Jun 2021 16:38 IST

Stop colouring resumes pink and blue

The first non-stop Air India flight from San Francisco to Bengaluru, flown by four women pilots, Captain Zoya Aggarwal, Captain Papagari Thanmai, Captain Akansha Sonaware and Captain Shivani Manhas.

Using technology, we can strip the gender-identifying markers from resumes and make them degendered

At the auditions for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the late 80s, aspiring musicians had to showcase their talents without being seen. The selection panel could see nothing, just hear the music. And the musicians played behind a screen in a well-carpeted area. While the screen hid any indication of age, sex, appearance, or race, from the panel, the carpeting was to make sure they couldn’t even hazard a guess at gender from the click of high-heeled shoes.

In just a few years, the predominantly white male orchestra boasted a much wider representation of women as well as people from diverse cultural backgrounds — while vastly improving their talent pool. Research shows that even scientists are not immune to gender bias. When gender markers like their first name were removed from applications for research time on the Hubble Space Telescope, women were selected at a higher rate than when the gender was obvious.

Think of the transformation in the workplace if we moved to blind hiring — and the best man or woman for the job was chosen each time.

Leadership has no colour

I started working as a welder for Chrysler when I was 18. There’s something zen-like with welding. When you get it just right, it’s a feeling of fulfilment. In those days there were very few women welders. I’m so glad that this scenario is changing. For example, Kemppi India, a manufacturer of welding equipment, is investing in proving that women can hold their own in this field by hosting the Best Welder competition for women, in association with the Indian Institute of Welding.

Hopefully, with organisations like these and forward thinkers like Tata Motors, Tata Steel, Vedanta, and Mahindra & Mahindra, pushing to double the number of women employed on the shop floor, the next generation will have role models and believe that ‘girls can weld/paint/mine.’ The Indian government is working on removing policy barriers to degenderising the shop floor too — indeed a welcome move.

In a tinted world, we have architected leadership traits and behaviours on what we have observed so far in a predominantly male-dominated arena. Why should being tough, strong, and authoritative be considered masculine? Or being compassionate, empathetic or collaborative be proprietary to women? These biases are pervasive and can prevent women from being considered for leadership roles even when they are highly competent.

A leader — regardless of gender — needs to be competent and compassionate. We need to consciously strive to degenderise our appraisal and recruitment system from penalising leaders who do not conform to our pre-conceptions of a boss. Diversity does not mean lowering the bar — it means that the bar should be the same for everyone.

Transforming processes

As leaders and individuals, we need to transform into a degendered way of thinking. But change, particularly mindset change, requires time. Moreover, perceptions coloured by stereotypes need counter-examples. I love it when I read news like MG Hector rolling out cars with an all-women crew. Or Air India’s all-women pilot crew successfully completing India’s longest commercial flight. Ceat Tyre shops owned, managed and run by women is another great initiative. These provide us with the counter-narratives required to move forward, away from our deeply ingrained beliefs. I believe this transformation is a marathon, not a sprint.

 

MG Motor India rolls out 50,000th Hector with an all-women crew. Source: MG Motor

 

 

 

Using technology we can strip the gender-identifying markers from resumes and make them degendered. This ensures that hiring managers are protected from expressing their biases in the recruitment decision. All genders must have equal opportunity to educate and skill themselves and only that will ensure that the pool is truly talent-based and degenderised.

Forward-thinking organisations at India Inc already use various tools and techniques like third-party software tools (to obfuscate background details in resumes) and psychometric tests (to assess behavioural patterns and soft skills). This is a great start and I would encourage more organisations to explore these tools in their recruitment processes.

Future workplaces

It is a place where there are more ands than ors. I think that characterises inclusivity in a very simple way. So it is a management paradigm that prizes assertiveness and empathy. Authority and inclusiveness. Control and willingness to share power. It is situational and context-sensitive. This workplace also models a more inclusive view of success. Whether it is parity in showcasing internal champions or a more inclusive approach to the naming of the company conference rooms, we need to move away from our implicit and explicit biases.

In the hiring and recruitment industry, the focus should be on attracting and developing the best talent. Creating a pipeline that is gender agnostic is one of the recipes for the success of an organisation. We can already observe a shift towards gender agnosticism through neutral language like workforce, leader, and chairperson. It’s 2021 — let’s keep our hiring forms neutral.

 

 

 

(The writer is MD and CEO, Randstad India.)