Deal with the cause

Name-blind recruitment does not tackle the root problem

The issue of discrimination in the workplace, whether race, gender or class-based, has been high on the agenda ever since David Cameron referenced minority discrimination in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference. He recounted the story of a young black woman who had to change her name to Elizabeth to secure job interviews. He rightly pointed out that the situation is disgraceful; especially in the multi-cultural nation Britain is today. Recent research shows that minority ethnic workers in the UK are twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts.

The solution proposed is name-blind recruitment, which will see employers receive CVs with the candidate’s name blanked out. David Cameron listed a host of large and prestigious firms who have signed up to the initiative, including KMPG, Virgin Money, and local government bodies. Although it is encouraging to see recognition of workplace discrimination among government ministers and across various public and private sector industries, name-blind recruitment is not a suitable response to the issue. It does not tackle the problem from the root. Unless you educate the discriminator, discrimination will always continue. To truly eradicate workplace prejudice, we need to highlight the bigger picture around its consequences and most importantly, deal with the cause instead of the effect.

An inadequate step 

Name-blind recruitment will not achieve its purpose because it is an insufficient move towards tackling the huge and pervasive issue that is workplace discrimination. On a practical level, it only has the potential to ease the path of disadvantaged applicants at the first hurdle. Although some candidates may be more likely to pass a CV screening if the potential employers cannot see their name, the prejudices will still become clear at the interview stage, and the details the initiative erases would be easily discovered through a phone call. First impressions are formed quickly and are part of human nature. Combatting discrimination means relearning innate reactions, which cannot be achieved by hiding a name or educational background.

There is also an ideological issue with the initiative. Cutting out a person’s name, or where they studied, removes their individuality and uniqueness and reinforces the idea that something about them is unacceptable. It suggests that they need to make an impossible fundamental change to themselves or their background to progress.

The long-term concern 

Name-blind recruitment is not just inadequate, it is concerning. The main issue here is the impact this will have on CVs. With name-blind recruitment alone, candidates are already being asked to hide important parts of their individuality and experience. As well as this ideological element, if the initiative progresses, candidates risk being reduced to a list of exam grades and work experience placements.

A huge part of the recruitment process is understanding the person, their personality and their background. This helps you determine how well they will fit with the other individuals on their team and within the company culture as a whole. If you are not able to ask questions which would help you explore these areas, you are less likely to make the right decision, or a decision you feel comfortable with. The initiative puts a hurdle in front of employers without smoothing the path for candidates.

The solutions

The drive to tackle discrimination must ultimately come from the government. The name-blind recruitment initiative at least acknowledges that there is an issue that needs to be solved, but it plays lip service to the problem rather than truly attempting to tackle it. There is a danger that this kind of recruitment will keep campaigners quiet for the moment, while the bigger issue is forced underground.

There have been workplace discrimination acts in the UK for decades and yet in 2016 the problem is still very much here. For those who do not yet understand the benefits of diversity, training is essential. It must be made clear to them how diversity could improve and benefit both their team and their business. Seeing the government provide or enforce this training would be a positive step.

On the whole, the benefits of a diverse workforce seem to be more widely recognised among recruiters than they are among business leaders. Although some managers look to recruit individuals with complimentary skills, many managers automatically recruit to type. Whatever efforts are taken, there will always be a small percentage who resist change.

Recruiters need to work with the government to ensure that businesses are tackling discrimination and not leave it down to business managers. If HR professionals work closely with hiring managers, in accordance with government regulations, they could make huge strides towards ensuring all applicants have a fair chance.

On the ground, the most important step for those with hiring power is to have a comprehensive and solid job description with a clearly defined skillset and qualifications, and a required level of experience. Making sure the job description contains all of these elements will ensure you only consider the candidates who are right for the position, whatever their name or background. It may lead you to hire somebody similar to your existing employees, or somebody completely different, but as long as they fit the criteria the job description has done its job.

There is still ground to be covered, however, the strength of a diverse workforce is becoming more widely understood as recruiters and business leaders understand that a wide range of backgrounds and experiences can contribute towards a strong team. We can only hope that name-blind recruitment does not stifle or delay more meaningful debate or progress. In the meantime, each individual must challenge their own perceptions and biases, and challenge any discrimination they see at each stage of the recruitment process.

Janet Prosper is Director of Human Resources EMEA at careerbuilder.com

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