Can Virtual Reality Help Eliminate Gender Bias?

Interviewing candidates through avatars could help more women land tech jobs

4 April 2016

Gender bias in hiring practices is well known. In one Yale study, research scientists were asked to review graduate-student applications for a lab manager job. They found those hiring were more likely to offer the job to an applicant they thought was a man, and at a starting salary that was on average US $4,000 higher than what they would have paid a woman.

Katharine Zaleski, cofounder and president of PowerToFly, a recruitment company for women looking for tech jobs, offers a solution to gender bias when hiring: virtual reality. In an article on Quartz, Zaleski proposes that employers use the technology to mask an applicant’s gender by having the hiring manager and the candidate wear VR headsets during the interview. The candidate would appear on the manager’s screen as an avatar, and his or her voice would be disguised. Hiring managers wouldn’t know the applicants’ gender—or race, for that matter.

There is a precedent for such a strategy, Zaleski points out: Starting in the 1970s, musicians auditioning for top U.S. symphonies did so behind a screen—which increased by about 50 percent the number of women who moved on to the next round. “It’s time the tech world used its own tools to solve its inherent biases,” she says, “and stop denying itself talented workers.”

Should companies use virtual reality during the hiring process?

This article is part of our April 2016 special report on women in engineering.

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