During October 2015, David Cameron announced that ‘name blind’ recruitment will be introduced into the processing of University admissions and apprenticeship applications. This is a key weapon in the fight against admission discrimination and will be introduced by 2017.
As a surprise move, some larger private companies such as KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte and Virgin Money have also made commitments to remove all applicant names from the shortlisting process for all of their recruitment campaigns.
Which company wouldn’t want to strengthen its anti-discrimination policies when you consider the potential costs associated with falling foul of the rules? Employment tribunal outcomes favouring the individual increased between 2013 and 2014 with an average settlement figure of £1,000. However, with some settlement figures exceeding £50,000, why would any company take the risk of not having a watertight procedure?
But, where did the evidence of recruitment discrimination come from and how would name blind recruitment make a difference?
Discrimination within recruitment was originally researched in the USA. The National Bureau of Economic Research released the paper, “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” The results were quite shocking, revealing that those with Afro-American names needed to send 15 applications before receiving one return call, when compared to those with white names needing to send only 10. That’s an uplift in application submission of 50% for those with non-white names.
Perhaps this discrimination problem only exists only in the US? Evidence suggests otherwise. Vikki Boliver of Durham University researched applicant discrimination in the UK and found that the problem was not exclusive to the United States. Boliver found that only 36% of ethnic minority applicants in the UK were granted university admission, compared with 55% of white applicants. The discrimination within university admission only strengthens the argument for name blind recruitment and its relevance to all selection processes.
What’s in a name?
A name is loaded and can lead people to infer ethnicity and gender among other personal attributes. Research within the USA revealed that a person’s gender influences opinions when recruiting. The BBC stated that “In one study, USA universities seeking a laboratory manager were handed CVs randomly headed with male or female names. They were seen to rate applicants assigned a ‘male’ names as significantly more competent and hireable".
On the basis of the findings it can be argued that removing a name might help to tackle gender discrimination. But, are there other details in an application that can give rise to discrimination?
This can be considered an indicator of social class. It is best practice for recruiters to remove contact details when sharing a CV with a client. However, class discrimination may lead to favouring one location over another.
The University choice of candidates has been considered such a recruitment influencer that law firm Clifford Chance now removes the references from an applicants’ CV. They believe this helps them overcome the perceived bias towards those from Oxford and Cambridge. An educational history can also reveal an applicant’s age.
Reveals the ethnicity of an applicant. If English is not given as the first language, it is easy to assume that an applicant is not of British background.
Many hobbies and interests are gender-weighted leading recruiters to identify male and female traits quickly.
Did you know that men and women express themselves differently in their writing style? Recruiters are aware of these slight differences which include layout, choice of language and even the selected font.
So how do we deal with candidate bias at the shortlisting stage when name blind recruitment offers only part of the solution?
Perhaps having an online application form would be of benefit. Offering a restricted set of responses and declarations and omitting key information that might affect bias could work.
Those who use application forms generally like to see a supporting CV. The personalisation of the application can be regarded as an important differentiator. It could be argued that losing key information might lead to worse outcomes in terms of identifying the preferred set of personal attributes.
It could also be argued that choices are difficult and that some choice parameters are often misclassified as discrimination. If cultural fit, teaming skills and personal chemistry with the boss are genuine factors in any campaign, then the right of choice must be fully exercised if the correct people are to end up in the right jobs with the right levels of support. (But that’s another blog.)
Overall, name blind recruitment is undoubtedly a small step in the right direction. But, as illustrated in this blog, an anonymised application can still reveal much about the applicant.
Name blind recruitment is intended to ensure that appropriately qualified people are shortlisted without the early interference of bias. That will probably work, but actual discrimination can reveal itself at any stage of the recruitment process. There’s no getting away from the fact that at interviews stage an applicant’s heritage is revealed in full. Avoiding early bias could promote greater levels of actual discrimination at stages that are downstream of the shortlisting step.
Let’s be clear that every step we take to eradicate bias from the recruitment process is a good thing. We’ll certainly keep a watching brief on workforce diversity and whether it improves as a consequence of the actions of key corporates.