Government backs ‘name-blind CVs’ to end discrimination

Shift in recruitment practices will ‘help prevent unconscious bias’, says diversity expert

David Cameron will today pledge government support to a scheme aimed at ending what he calls “disgraceful” discrimination – where recruiters reject CVs based purely on reading the names of applicants.

In a speech today he will announce that the civil service will begin to process applications on a so-called ‘name blind’ basis, where only the skills, not names of applicants are considered.

He will say that the move aims to end the bias that means that ‘white-sounding’ applicants are still twice as likely to receive a call back from recruiters than people with ‘ethnic-sounding’ names.

The pledge sees the government making good on a promise made during last month’s Conservative Party Conference, where Cameron said: “One young black girl had to change her name to Elizabeth before she got any calls to interviews. That, in 21st-century Britain, is disgraceful.”

The prime minister will announce that UCAS, the processing body for university students, will also work to name-blind applications from 2017.

John Manzoni, chief executive of the Civil Service, said: “I’m delighted to expand the civil service’s use of name-blind applications. It’s vital the civil service takes a lead on this, and I’m confident this important step will help us build an organisation that is even more talented, diverse and effective than it is today.”

Already, several major organisations, employing around 1.8 million people, have pledged to recruit on a name-blind basis. They include the BBC, NHS, KPMG, and HSBC. One of the latest to pledge this was Deloitte earlier this month. The firm has partnered with Rare, a specialist in diversity recruitment, to recruit more than 1,500 graduates and school-leavers David Sproul, its chief executive said: “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.”

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser for the CIPD, said that tackling unconscious bias makes good business sense but added that there's potential for name blind applications to be used much more widely.

“Apprenticeships is another area where this can and should be applied, for example. And why stop at names? Organisations can choose to remove ages from CVs as well. They can also review job adverts to ensure the language is inclusive and that they attract diverse talent before they even reach the point or reviewing CVs," Worman said. "If people have the skills, the potential and the right attitude to work then they should be given every chance to succeed, regardless of their individual characteristics.”

Since as long ago as 2009, the government has been worried about racial discrimination against workers with African and Asian names. In partnership with the National Centre for Social Research, the DWP found applicants who appeared to be white needed to send nine applications before receiving either an invitation to an interview or an encouraging telephone call. By comparison, minority candidates with the same qualifications and experience had to send 16 applications before receiving a similar response.

Earlier this month a report from think tank Demos, called Rising to The Top, also found British Muslims were much less likely than members of any other religious group to hold professional or managerial jobs (16 per cent occupy such posts compared with an overall average of 30 per cent), and that they are also discriminated against in the recruitment process.

However, critics remain divided on the issue. Last year Steven Kirkpatrick, chief executive of Cordant Group’s recruitment division, lamented the over-use of blind CVs in the private sector, saying “although it may be helpful getting a shortlist together, you’ve still got the interview the people face to face, so it’s pointless”.