At a recent counseling session, I had the difficult task of motivating a young black female graduate who had an Anglo-Saxon sounding name, and had applied for and been invited to interview for an HR role within an NHS Organisation. At the interview, she was kept waiting for over 30 minutes and when she was finally called in, the actual interview only lasted 10 minutes, much of which was spent in telling her about the role. Whilst this shabby treatment could conveniently be put down to an uncharacteristic lapse in professionalism on the part of the interviewers, she left feeling deflated and convinced that the interview process was a charade, with the all-white panel barely able to conceal their dismay, when they realised she wasn't the 'bright' candidate they had been expecting. Unsurprisingly, she wasn't offered the job.

In explaining his reasons for backing 'name blind' recruitment, the Prime Minister revealed:

"It's the disappointment of not getting your first choice university place, it's being passed over for promotion and not knowing why, it's organisations that recruit in their own image and aren't confident enough to do something different, like employing a disabled person or a young black man or woman.....You won't change these attitudes simply through laws, but in a smarter, more innovative way."

Under the PM's proposals which have been endorsed by a number of organisations including UCAS, the Civil Service, BBC, NHS, KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte and Virgin Money, name blind applications will be introduced from 2017, with names no longer being seen by recruiters. With the exception of Deloitte, who have taken the additional step of removing the requirement of having to name schools and universities attended, other identifiers such as home address and schools will still be required. 

For those that need to ask the question: "What's in a name?" The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that, "quite a lot!" The Prime Minister's recent comments at the Conservative Party's Autumn Conference for example, were prompted by the case of Jorden Berkeley, a black university graduate from London who had to adopt her middle name, Elizabeth on her applications before she began to receive positive responses and call-backs from Employers.

In 2009, the DWP commissioned a study by NatCen, where researchers sent out three applications to 987 advertised job vacancies. All applicants were equally qualified, with one application having a 'white sounding name' and the other two having 'foriegn sounding names.' Responses revealed that 10.7% of the applications with white sounding names received positive responses as compared with 6.2% of applications from ethnic minority candidates. A similar 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.

But does 'name blind' recruitment actually improve the employment outcomes for previously excluded applicants? Evidence from experiments conducted in France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands over the last 10 years suggest otherwise.

Germany's Institute for the Study of Labour found that anonymous job applications did increase the probability of applicants from ethnic minorities being invited to interview, however there was little or no evidence to counter the presumption that their chances would not once again diminish at the interview stage.

In the French Government's experiment which took place between 2010 and 2011, the results indicated that despite name blind applications, ethnic minority applicants had significantly worse call-back rates, suggesting that Employers were still able to decipher the background of applicants from other information available on the applications such as home address, schools attended and language skills.

Steven Kirkpatrick, who is the Chief Executive of the recruitment division of the Cordant Group, when asked how effective name blind recruitment is, remarked that "Although it may be helpful in getting a shortlist together, you've still got to go through a face to face interview, so it's pointless."

The fact is that 'name blind' recruitment is nothing new. It's been around for some time, for example it's been used for several years with fast stream applications within the Civil Service and frankly it hasn't made a great deal of difference to the employment fortunes of traditionally excluded groups there.

And the reason is simple. 'Name blind' recruitment is essentially a sop. It may have a part to play as one of many integrated measures Inclusive Employers can adopt to tackle recruitment bias, but on it's own, it fails spectacularly to address the latent biases that Employers hold, which end up manifesting themselves in the later stages of the recruitment and selection process. With the evidence showing that final selection decisions leading to appointment continue to disproportionately favour the majority group. 

The PM is right about one thing though, if we really mean business in tackling discrimination effectively, we do need to think smarter and be more innovative. Given the evidence, I'm simply not convinced that 'name blind recruitment' is either smart or innovative. 

About the author

Glanville Einstein Williams is a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist.