LinkedIn goes to the dogs

Published on the 20/02/2019 | Written by Heather Wright

Can doggie pics save us from hiring bias?…

For years we’ve been told it’s not a good idea to use a pic of your dog – or cat, rabbit, lizard or any other pet – for your LinkedIn profile photo. But in a world increasingly concerned about bias, diversity and inclusivity, it may just be a case of LinkedIn dog pics to the rescue.

True, in this case we’re not talking your own pet dog. Instead, Aaron Weyenberg, TED product research and development director, has come up with a Chrome extension, Profile of Dogs which automatically turns users’ LinkedIn profile photos into random pics of dogs.

“Even if you don’t like dogs, Profile of Dogs can still limit your bias since you’ll dislike everyone’s profile image equally.”

It is designed to ‘reduce your implicit bias while browsing LinkedIn’.

LinkedIn_Profile of dogs“[It’s] great for screening candidates, hiring mangers or anyone wanting to reduce how people’s appearance subconsciously influences the evaluation process,” reads the blurb on the Chrome Web Store.

“Even if you don’t like dogs (!?), Profile of Dogs can still limit your bias since you’ll dislike everyone’s profile image equally.”

While Profile of Dogs is a cute option, it does address an issue many companies are struggling to get on top of.

While there are plenty of options for those doing the hiring – including ‘unconscious bias training’ to rid us of those biases, and technology (where bias in algorithms is now a big focus) through to software to ensure job ads aren’t skewed towards a particular market – as yet there’s been no clear winner.

Blind recruitment, where personally identifiable information such as name, address, gender, ethnic background and even potentially education, is removed from applicants CV’s, in a growth area as companies look to remove unconscious bias. Some careers websites are already offering the service, with companies like Deloitte UK also jumping aboard with hiding some applicant data.

One of the best known examples of blind recruitment comes from the music world, and in particular the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, where blind auditions are used to – literally – screen candidates in an effort to ensure more diversity in a traditionally primarily white and male sector. Candidates perform from behind a screen so they couldn’t be seen and pre-judged based on race or sex.

Across the border in the US, Harvard Kennedy School report notes that the percentage of female musicians in the five highest ranked orchestras in the US increased from six percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 1993 on the back of blind auditions.

With LinkedIn a large part of the recruiting process for many companies these days, Profile of Dogs, which was released in January, offers the chance to replace profile pics of potential candidates with a (somewhat limited) range of doggie pics, with the pics changing on each viewing, so you won’t be stuck forever as a forlorn-looking Weimaraner, snappy little Chihuahua, or bouncy Lab. (Interestingly, the extension didn’t change the profile pics for LinkedIn’s own staff.)

Weyenberg himself notes that the offering isn’t intended to solve the issue: “The intent wasn’t really to solve, but to offer a counterweight. A tool. To see if it resonated. And to advance the conversation.”

Of course, the next question is whether we can be biased by pics of the dogs…

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