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Rewriting the Book on Hiring Bias

How much should college degrees matter to employers today?

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BY Mark Newman - 08 Aug 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Penguin Random House likes that you read books; they couldn't care less if you read them in college.

In the age of digital content, you don't get to be the fifth largest publisher in the world without hedging your bets against industry disruption by tapping creativity, outsmarting your competition and evolving your talent strategy.

In 2015, Penguin Random House re-wrote the book on finding the best talent in the publishing industry by breaking down bias in the hiring process and building teams on potential and passion vs. pedigree. The team at Penguin knew that they were a diverse organization in terms of race, gender, and ideas of thought, but wanted to also be a magnet for creative talent regardless of background or the school someone attended - or didn't.

A first in the industry, Penguin is addressing bias head on - particularly when it comes to university grads who all have the same basic challenge on paper - no experience. They've completely scrapped degree requirements from their job application process, and with that widened their demographic and geographic net, democratized the process, and freed themselves to engage and evaluate talent in a much more meaningful way.

Penguin made the change in 2015 alongside other powerhouses including Ernst & Young, PWC and Deloitte - citing no real correlation between where someone went to school and how they ultimately performed on the job.

I recently sat down with Neil Morrison, Group HR Director, to discuss how the bold move of ditching degree requirements in the selection process is working. Bottom line - it's changed the game.

Here are two good reasons to take a page from Penguin's book and break the bias in your own hiring strategy:

1. Hiring based on factors with proven correlations to success

Neil and his team looked at their existing workforce to analyze and identify what correlates to success and sure enough - predictive analytics revealed that an alma mater didn't correlate to anything meaningful. Instead, factors including both hard and soft skills, personality characteristics, creative potential, passion and cultural fit told a much stronger story about whether someone would ultimately succeed in a given role.

Now, Penguin creates profiles of their most successful team members and maps those profiles against their candidate pools using predictive analytics and digital video as part of their screening process. In doing so, they quickly identify candidates who fit the profile and then measure their strengths in similar skills, personality traits and creative potential.

By eliminating irrelevant selection criteria, including expensive degrees, Neil and his team are more inclusive and focused on factors that have a proven correlation to success in specific roles at Penguin.

2. Creating a higher performing culture through a more diversified workforce

Let's face it - across every industry - the battle is and will remain one of winning the customer. Research shows that when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end customer, the entire team better understands that customer. On top of that, socially diverse groups prove more innovative, lending their diverse experiences, points of view and perspectives to solving problems in more creative ways.

According to Neil, "it's critical to our future - to publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere. We need to have people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and a workforce that truly reflects today's society."

With a customer base that demands diverse content, Penguin must remain a magnet for creative talent. By using technology to tap into the digital generation and hiring them based on their passions and potential, Penguin has re-written the story on diversity. Diversity isn't just about gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background, it's also about the perspectives, ideas and experiences that shape creativity.

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