Business: Recruitment No names, no bias?
Anonymising job applications to eliminate discrimination is not easy.
“If you've got the grades, the skills and the determination, this government will ensure you can succeed,” trumpeted David Cameron, the British prime minister, on October 26th, as he unveiled plans to tackle discrimination in the workplace.Ten big employers in the public and private sectors—including the civil service, HSBC and Deloitte—have agreed to start recruiting on a “name-blind” basis in Britain; others may also follow suit.In such schemes, those drawing up shortlists of applicants cannot see their names, with the aim of reducing racial and sexual bias.But do they work?
Several countries have experimented with name-blind applications.In 2010 Germany's Anti-Discrimination Agency, an advisory body, sponsored a voluntary scheme to get businesses to try it.In France a law passed in 2006 made the anonymising of applicants' CVs compulsory for firms of over 50 employees.But the government was slow in laying down the conditions for how the law would operate, and only started enforcing it last year.
In Sweden and the Netherlands there have been some trials.Discrimination against job applicants based on their names is well documented, particularly among ethnic minorities.An experiment in Germany found that candidates with German-sounding names were 14% more likely to be called for an interview than candidates with Turkish ones.A review of various studies, by the Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA) , a German outfit, found that anonymised job applications boost the chances of ethnic-minority candidates being invited to an interview.A Swedish study found that it led to more ethnic-minority people being hired.
However, the results from other trials are less clear.A second Swedish experiment found that only women, not immigrants, were boosted by anonymous recruitment.According to the IZA, experiments in the Netherlands showed no increase in the likelihood of ethnic-minority candidates being offered a job if their CVs were seen anonymously, suggesting that discrimination had crept in at the interview stage.Ensuring that a candidate is completely anonymous is also tricky.
A 2012 French study found that foreign-born candidates and those from poor districts were less likely to be called for interview when applications were anonymised.Its authors suggested that recruiters may have used other indicators, such as knowledge of Arabic, to identify race.In places fraught with religious tension, such as Northern Ireland, the name of a school can reveal a candidate's faith, while a few years missing on a CV may suggest maternity leave, and thus that the candidate is female.Going name-blind when shortlisting candidates may be a sensible start, but it is likely to be just a small step towards ending hiring bias.