Name Blind Recruitment

Posted on Wednesday 4th May, 2016 by

David Cameron, Prime Minister, declared in October 2015, by 2017 name blind recruitment will be introduced to all University admissions and apprenticeships, in a way of tackling admission discrimination.

Some larger organisations have already signed up to the pledge to remove all applicant names from the shortlisting process. Companies include the Civil Service, BBC, NHS, Local Government, KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte and Virgin Money.

It’s no surprise companies want to strengthen their discrimination policies when you consider the cost of discrimination when taken to tribunal. Employment tribunal wins increased between 2013 and 2014, with the median settlement figure at £1,000. But with some payments running into the £50,000 bracket, why would companies want to take the risk of not having a water tight procedure?

But, where did the evidence proving discrimination in recruitment and the need for name blind recruitment come from?

The research

Discrimination within recruitment was originally researched in the US. 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 call back, 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.

Thinking this discrimination problem only exists in the US? Vikki Boliver, from Durham University, researched university applicant discrimination in the UK and found that the problem was not exclusive to state side. Boliver found that only 36% of ethnic minority applicants in the UK were granted university admission, compared to 55% of white applicants. The discrimination within university admission only strengthens the argument for name blind recruitment to be applied to all selection processes.

What’s in a name?

A name reveals a lot about a person, for example their ethnicity and gender. Research within the US revealed that a person’s gender influences someone’s opinion when recruiting. The BBC stated that “In one study, US universities seeking a laboratory manager were handed CVs randomly headed with male or female names. They were seen to rate applicants assigned a ‘male’ name as significantly more competent and hireable”.

It can be argued on the basis of the findings above that removing a name helps remove gender discrimination. But, are there other details in an application that can be discriminated against?

Your details laid bare

It is not only a name that reveals details about a candidate. Let’s take a moment to consider the information in an application or CV and what it reveals in-between the lines.

Contact details

An address reveals the area in which the applicant resides. This can also reveal their social class. It is best practice today for recruiters to remove contact details when supplying a CV to a client. But prerequisite opinions of candidates from Chelsea compared to Brixton are probably still being made in some industries.

Educational history

Also reveals someone’s social class, especially when looking at the University they attended. Where a degree was obtained has been considered such a recruitment influencer that law firm Clifford Chance now removes the references from applicants’ universities. They believe this helps them overcome the perceived bias towards those from Oxford and Cambridge. Your educational history also reveals the applicants age. Many people include the dates they attended each higher education establishment, allowing recruiters and employers to quickly calculate an age.


Reveal the ethnicity of an applicant. If English is not their first language, it’s easy to assume that they are not of white British background.


Hobbies broadly reveal a candidate’s gender. Hobbies and interests are very gender weighted and recruiters can identify male and female traits instantly from what a candidate likes doing in their spare time.

Writing Style

Did you know that men and women express themselves differently in their writing style? Recruiters are aware of the slight differences between male and female CVs, in terms of layout, language and even font. All these little choices a candidate makes when constructing their CV subtly reveals their gender.

Removing discrimination

So how do you remove bias either towards or against a candidate within the shortlisting stage when an application or CV with no name reveals so much?

One answer would be an online application form. A generic list of tick boxes where applicants declare their employment history and achieved grades only.

The problem with this is the limited amount of information captured. Yes, it means a recruiter would not know if the candidate was male or female, black or white, but they also wouldn’t know if they spoke English or if they could write.

Generic applications is maybe not the answer and it can be argued that a certain level of discrimination is needed in the recruitment industry in order to place the right people in the right jobs. (But that’s another blog.)

Name blind recruitment is undoubtedly a small step in the right direction. But, as illustrated an application or CV reveals a lot more about the demographic of a person, even with the name removed.

Name blind recruitment also only affects the short listing stage and discrimination can reveal itself in any stage of the recruitment process. Once someone is presented for interview, regardless of the previous name blind procedure, the employer can see that person’s gender, ethnicity and age. Removing discrimination from the recruitment process means ultimately teaching people to be unbiased. That is a difficult task to complete, as everyone has prerequisite opinions based on their past encounters. These opinions are hard to undo but bigger steps towards an unbiased recruitment process need to be made.

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