Turning To Dog Faces To Minimize Bias In Hiring

As many managers know, hiring good people is hard. We know that it is even harder, however, to avoid our own biases when hiring – whether they are conscious or unconscious. From a candidate’s perspective, no one likes to think of a manager or recruiter excluding them because they associate your name with someone who they don’t like, a university they did not get admitted to or, worse, because they just don’t like your profile photograph.

Aaron Weyenberg, a New York City-based director of research and development at not-for-profit TED, needed a way to review candidates without the effects of unconscious bias.

So he turned everyone into dogs,

Weyenberg cheekily launched Profile of Dogs, a Chrome browser extension that automatically turns users’ self-selected LinkedIn profile pictures into a random dog image. (The extension can be installed via Chrome’s web store.)

LinkedIn is a key part of the recruiting process in many countries and although many companies still ask for a CV and cover letter, candidates are often pre-screened on LinkedIn before they are contacted.

“All kinds of information that has nothing to do with a person's qualifications can be involuntarily placed in our line of sight,” says Weyenberg. “The rise of LinkedIn certainly hasn't done anything to slow that. They don't offer any kind of browsing mode that suppresses irrelevant information and puts forward more substantive information.

However, other experts believe even a picture of a dog has inherent associations, and different breeds can trigger different kinds of thoughts and perceptions about the candidates.

The problem is that people make associations with all kinds of things, says Alexander Todorov, assistant chair of psychology at Princeton University.

“Dobermans have one kind of reputation that is different than a golden retriever,” he says. “If I see someone with a picture of, say, a pit bull, there are specific inferences that come to my mind for this person – even if they could be completely false.”

Hiring organizations have tried different methods to suppress irrelevant information about candidates to minimize bias. One is to obscure faces.

Experts agree it is as difficult to eliminate bias as it is to hire the right candidate. But the dog-face method is still fun and partly effective.