How Star Wars battled diversity head on (and other recruitment innovations)

20 April 2016 -


The film industry came under intense criticism after the #OscarsSoWhite debacle, but Star Wars director J.J. Abrams is ensuring all his future films will be as diverse as the populations they represent

Jermaine Haughton

With a stack of box office records under its belt Star Wars: The Force Awakens is arguably the biggest film of the past 12 months, but its achievements even extended to its ground-breaking diverse hiring programme, which cast young stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega among a multitude of female and ethnic minority actors.

After becoming only the second film in history to pass $2bn at the worldwide box office during its first run, Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams revealed how he is using a new hiring system that will ensure all of his future films will be equally, if not more, diverse.

His production company Bad Robot now requires agencies and movie studios around Hollywood to submit women and minority job candidates roughly equal to their representation in the United States population.

In the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, whereby the Academy Award body was heavily criticised for failing to nominate a single non-white actor for the second consecutive year, Abrams told the Wall Street Journal: “Any list that we get—it needs to be, at the very least, representative of the country we live in. Which roughly breaks down to: 50% women, 12% black, 18% percent Hispanic, 6% Asian.”

Here are four other innovative recruitment processes aiming to increase the diversity in their workforce:

GapJumpers: Blind Auditions

Inspired by music talent show The Voice, GapJumpers provides software that enables tech companies to conduct blind auditions of job candidates and remove hiring bias from their recruitment processes.

The GapJumpers software asks each job seeker to solve skills-based challenges to prove they are qualified and capable of doing the job they're applying for before progressing to a phone or in-person interview.

The system then removes all personal information about the candidate which could stimulate bias from a hiring manager, such as the candidate’s name (revealing sex, race or ethnicity), graduation year (which can give away age) and educational institutions (which tells the employer what type of school you went to).

Launched in 2014, the tech firm gathered data from nearly 1,200 interviews across 13 companies during its first seven months in business and found that the gender breakdown of those candidates hired was 58% women and 42% men.

The company has also experienced a significant increase in awareness around the role of unconscious bias in the workplace.

"The complaint for any company can never be there aren't enough women applying, at least at the entry-level space in tech and design," says Kedar Iyer, cofounder and CEO of GapJumpers. "We can't change how humans are wired. That’s going to take a long time.

“We are trying to move the process of judgment so that it's based on evidence and not just perception."

Buffer: Ensuring Job Titles Apply to Everyone

When placing a recruitment advert, a job title is the first thing most applicants, giving job hunters a strong idea of what the job involves and whether they'd be qualified to apply.

But tech firm Buffer discovered that job titles are often riddled with submissive masculine terms which can prevent capable and highly-qualified women from applying.

For example, the firm found that by including the word 'hacker' in many of their job titles, they were putting women off applying for those jobs: only 2% of applicants were women.

After a review of their job adverts - including seeking counsel from Angie Chang, the vice president of Hackbright Academy - Buffer made a priority of ensuring all its job titles on adverts were gender neutral.

Bosses ensured that the word 'hacker' was replaced by the word 'developer' in their job titles and while their development team remains their least diverse team according to their diversity dashboard, it does now include 10% women, which is significant progress from 2% of applicants.

Unitive: Inclusive Job Advert Descriptions

Just as the language used for job titles can deter women and ethnic minority applicants, the job descriptions of the required candidate’s criteria can also defer responses from women and minority groups.

Aiming to helps tech firms adopt recruitment practices that improve their diversity of candidates by focusing on removing unconscious bias in all aspects of the recruitment process, tech startup Unitive’s software identifies words with male bias in job adverts so that recruiters can change the language to be more inclusive.

In the case of gender, research shows that while content laden with a masculine tone can ward off female applicants, more inclusive, feminine language, puts off neither men nor women from applying.

Therefore, Unitive would change an advert requiring a masculine 'driven, go-getting' individual, to something softer and more neutral words like 'excellent' and 'dedicated'.

As well as editing job descriptions to be more inclusive, Unitive also helps create accountability during interviews - for example calling out if a hiring manager disregards criteria they initially said was very important to them in a hire.

Etsy: Leadership From The Top-Down

Rather than laying the responsibility of recruiting the most diverse talent for his company, Etsy’s former CTO Kellan Ellitot-McCrea was proactively involved in restructuring the company’s recruiting and hiring approach to boost gender diversity.

The tech field has long been criticised for being a male-dominated environment, and an unattractive proposition for talented female workers.

With the help of VP of engineering Mark Hedlund, Etsy launched "Etsy Hacker Grants" in 2012 to provide need-based scholarships to talented women engineers enrolling in Hacker School - a three-month course designed to teach people how to become better engineers. After a year, Etsy had grown the number of female engineers by almost 500%.

The direct involvement of C-Suite managers shows that senior executives can play a key role alongside recruiters with a passion for diversity providing support and resources, as well as developing company goals around diversity, and ensuring accountability.

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