What’s in a name?

students“The prime minister will announce on Monday that a series of leading employers in the public and private sectors have agreed to recruit candidates on a name blind basis (including the BBC, the NHS, the civil service outside the highest ranks, KPMG and HSBC). Deloitte will say that it is going a step further and blanking out the name of a candidate’s school and university during the interview process.” The Guardian 26.10.15

What is so dangerous in knowing the name of a candidate applying for a job?

The research clearly shows that a name which implies either a racial identity or which identifies gender will trigger subtle but significant bias against racial minorities or against women. Applicants with white-sounding or with male sounding names are frequently assessed more positively. A recent study within research intensive labs in the USA documented that on reading the CV of an apparently male applicant, he was assessed as being more competent, as better qualified, as more employable and as worthy of a higher starting salary when compared to evaluations of the identical CV when it was attributed to a female applicant.

Surely, this has to be an important issue for employers and employees alike. There can’t be a father in the land who would willing accept that it is only fair that his daughter deserves a significantly lower starting salary than an equally qualified male applicant doing exactly the same job… and yet, this is what the research suggests is the reality that women face when entering the employment market.

The thing is, when we acknowledge that there is the potential for bias, when we deliberately choose to spend the same time evaluating all applications or consider all elements of an application rather than allowing ourselves to put too great an emphasis on a single element (such as valuing references from people within our network or valuing the school or university affiliation), then we find that appointments are less biased and are more likely to genuinely reflect the skills, experience and competence of the applicant.

In an effort to make the first step on the university entrance ladder more equally accessible to all, the UCAS application forms are now going to be “name blinded” during the initial screening process… universities will only learn the name of their applicants once they have decided to invite the for interview.

Now that’s a really good start, particularly if you are part of an under-represented ethnic minority. At least you stand an equal chance of being invited for interview. Guess we need to think about how to level the playing field at each subsequent step of the career ladder!




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