Some major UK firms and civil service to adopt 'blind recruitment' policy to reduce bias

LONDON – Britain’s civil service and several major companies have agreed to recruit university graduates and apprentices without knowing the applicants’ names in an effort to eliminate bias against ethnic minorities.

The goal of the new program is to make it easier for young graduates to be interviewed for their first jobs in an extremely competitive market.

Prime Minister David Cameron met with business leaders Monday to launch the new program.

Cameron said last month it was “disgraceful” that people with “white-sounding” names were twice as likely as others to be shortlisted for jobs, citing the case of a young woman who said she was advised to use her middle name, Elizabeth, in job applications because it sounded more English than her first name.

Cameron’s office said Monday that firms including international bank HSBC, accountants Deloitte, broadcaster BBC and the state-run National Health Service had signed up to the “name blind” recruitment plan, in which employers do not know applicants’ names when they are selecting them for interviews.

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser for CIPD, a leading people- development group, said after the 10 Downing St. meeting that the new program could reduce the role tjat conscious and unconscious bias plays in deciding who is interviewed and hired.

“It was hugely encouraging to see the commitment from government, business and other organizations to end discrimination at work,” she said. “Research has shown that any name that doesn’t sound Anglo-Saxon or white is regarded as potentially causing problems, and people are getting left out.”

“Name blind recruitment” has been tried in some other countries, Worman said, that it alone won’t solve the problem until people making hiring decisions truly understand that it is their self-interest to make their work force more diverse.

BBC officials said in a statement the new policy would be introduced in April and should help the sprawling broadcaster “hire the most talented people irrespective of their background.”

The national broadcaster said applicants would be given an identification number and would not list their names, addresses and contact numbers on job forms.

Personal details will be added to documents used by panels conducting interviews, BBC said.

The new process is also supposed to extend to the college application process, which is expected to be changed in the next two years.

Cameron has framed the issue in political terms to emphasize that his Conservative Party wants ethnic minorities to do well. He raised the issue at his party’s annual conference last month and emphasized it Monday in the Guardian newspaper with a column headlined “Conservatives have become the party of equality.”

“Britain has come so far, but the long march to an equal society isn’t over,” Cameron wrote.

He has also vowed to close the gender pay gap that sees women earn 19 per cent less than men on average, according to government statistics. The government says companies and the civil service will have to publish details of salaries and bonuses paid to male and female employees.