Some UK companies are removing job candidates’ names from their applications

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Monday that the British government and some top UK firms have agreed to roll out a “name-blind recruitment” strategy, which would remove the names of entry-level job seekers from their job application forms.

In light of recent research that shows how much your name can affect your success, organisers hope the movement could eliminate some of the initial discrimination that job seekers who don’t have “white-sounding” names face.

“If you’ve got the grades, the skills, and the determination, this government will ensure that you can succeed,” Cameron said.

The British Civil Service along with firms including HSBC, Deloitte, BBC, and the UK’s National Health Service, which together are responsible for employing around 1.8 million people in the UK, according to a press release from Cameron’s office, will participate in the recruitment plan beginning in April.

The initiative comes a month after Cameron said it was “disgraceful” that people with “white-sounding names” were twice as likely as others to be shortlisted for jobs.

According to one study cited by The National Bureau of Economic Research, white-sounding names like Emily Walsh and Greg Baker got nearly 50% more callbacks than candidates with black-sounding names like Lakisha Washington and Jamal Jones. Researchers determined that having a white-sounding name is worth as much as eight years of work experience.

In fact, another study out of Marquette University suggests that people with common first names are viewed as more likable and more likely to be hired, whereas those with rare names are less likely to be hired.

And the gender attached to a name has also been found to play a role in how applicants are rated in the hiring process, especially when it comes to STEM jobs. According to a recent study out of
Stanford University, when scientists were asked to evaluate identical resumes with different applicant names, students named Jennifer were rated as less competent than those named John.

Job seekers who’ve tested theories about hidden name bias on their own have found similar results. Last year a man named José dropped the “s” from his first name and applied to the same jobs he would previously never hear back from with the name Joe. He reported being flooded with emails from prospective employers who wanted to meet with him just a week later.

But countries that have implemented strategies similar to the UK’s name-blind recruitment plan have seen mixed results so far.

In countries like Germany and Sweden, minority candidates were called back for jobs just as readily as non-minority candidates.

In France, however, callback rates were lower for minority job seekers with anonymous job applications than with standard applications. The Institute for the Study of Labour suggests this could come down to the applications not being entirely anonymous, since applicants’ residential neighbourhoods could be deduced from information about schools attended and ethnicity could be inferred from listed language skills.

While the UK’s plan does not include removing indicators of background like address and school, Deloitte has said it would interview candidates without knowing what school or university they attended.

While clearly not a universal remedy to combat unconscious bias, participants believe the move is a solid first step.

“The introduction of name-blind recruitment processes and school and university-blind interviews will help prevent unconscious bias and ensure that job offers are made on the basis of potential — not ethnicity, gender, or past personal circumstance,” said David Sproul, senior partner and CEO of Deloitte.

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