Here’s my latest column from the Ham & High:
I had two interns a while back whose surnames were Hussein and Patel. They were bright as buttons and went on to get very good jobs – one at the Ministry of Defence and the other in public relations.
Prior to coming to my office they told me that they had applied for hundreds of jobs but not even got through to the interview stage. Now much as I’d like to hope that my interns get valuable experience – after all, that is the point – it was a striking change that once they’d got “worked for an MP” to put on their CV they suddenly got much more interest from would-be employers.
So that got met thinking that there might be a discard of applications because of an unconscious bias – a bias that is only beaten back when there’s a strong contrary hook in the CV for people to latch on to. If that’s the case, then the answer is simply – move to anonymous job applications where the application is processed, at least until interview stage, using a reference number with the name withheld.
Without a name the ethnicity, gender and age of the applicant would be hidden – and the application would be judged on its merit in terms of qualifications and experience. Of course, when it comes to interview, all would be revealed. But once an applicant is in the room – they’ve got a chance to show what they’re made of.
We give children numbers to write on their exam papers to ensure that there is absolutely no bias in marking. This is really the same kind of thing. And it’s also what some employers do at the moment.
I floated my thesis in the second reading of the Equality Bill and it caused quite a hoo ha in the employment world. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development supported the idea – although did not believe it should be mandatory. Some in the human resource industry thought it was a stupid idea – though I was a bit surprised that some said it couldn’t be done, given some firms are doing this already!
Undeterred, at the Committee stage of the Bill I tabled an amendment that would see this brought into law. The Solicitor General, Vera Baird (Labour Minister) – after sneering for a bit as is apparently mandatory when a good idea comes from an opposition MP – admitted that the Department of Work and Pensions was doing some survey work to find out if my theory was correct. She said she was sorry to tantalise the committee as the work would not be finished until the summer – but initial findings showed ‘significant discrimination’.
I was really excited – because if there is a big problem here – then the use of anonymous CVs is a really simple, effective (and low cost!) way of fixing it. And so many benefits flow from removing discrimination in the job market in terms of opening up opportunities and spreading wealth – brining pluses such as greater social cohesion and economic efficiency which we all benefit from.
Then the Mail on Sunday gets the wrong end of the stick and blasts the Government for carrying out this research. Well excuse me – but research to see if a change in the law is required sounds pretty sensible to me – especially on an issue as important as discrimination in employment practices. The Mail quoted various grumpy employers not liking the idea that research is being done to check whether discrimination is taking place – but if that’s the case they shouldn’t have anything to fear from the research. And a smart employer would also know the depth of scientific research that already exists into the myriad of subtle ways that biases and discrimination can creep into human decision-making processes – as seen in bestselling books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.
Blimey – this is a proposal that actually won’t cost business any money and might drastically improve the situation for applicants for jobs – bringing fairness and equality – and still they moan.
So what’s in a name? Quite a lot!