Despite the best intentions of organizations and individuals, traditional hiring processes can be unintentionally discriminatory toward underrepresented minorities, women, and older workers.
John Mitchell MPP'12

In the summer and fall of 2017, John Mitchell MPP’12, now senior associate director of information engagement for the Alumni Relations and Development team at the University of Chicago, wanted to test new ways to ensure diversity in the hiring process for his two open positions. He knew that previous experimental studies had demonstrated how certain changes to the hiring process could increase the diversity of the applicant pool, interviewee pool, and ultimately the pool of newly hired employees.

“I wanted to ensure that my team was sourcing and ultimately hiring the highest quality candidates by removing any and all bias,” says Mitchell, who shared how research from fellow alum Cynthia “CC” DuBois MPP’10 is what first gave him the idea. DuBois, who recently passed after losing her battle to brain cancer, had completed her PhD in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University, with the first chapter of her dissertation, “The Impact of ‘Soft’ Affirmative Action Policies on Minority Hiring in Executive Leadership: The Case of the NFL's Rooney Rule," published in the American Law & Economics Review in 2016.

Mitchell’s team experimented with two changes to its hiring process. First, a blind resume review which involves stripping all names and explicit identifiers of race, sex, and age from both resumes and cover letters. And second, in a nod to DuBois’s research, implementation of the Rooney Rule, named after a 2003 National Football League ruling, which in essence, requires that at least one minority be interviewed for each designated position.

“I believe we all want to work on skilled, diverse teams. But research by CC DuBois and others has demonstrated that we’re overly influenced by our implicit racial, gender, age and other biases,” Mitchell explained. “Our traditional hiring methods often lead to less skilled and less diverse teams than we would ideally like. However, by embracing new hiring methods, my team, like the NFL before us, was able to hire candidates that were more skilled and more diverse."

After conducting the hiring process for two open positions using his new approach, Mitchell and his team had narrowed the applicant pool to six total candidates, four of whom identified as racial minorities. In the end, two candidates identified as racial minorities were offered and accepted positions on his team.

“We were ultimately impressed that these updated procedures produced interviewees and candidates that were of higher caliber than was initially hoped for at the outset of the hiring process,” Mitchell concluded. “We feel confident that the two final job offers were made due to experience, skill, attitude, qualification and culture add – rather than implicit unintentional bias.”