Name blank employment

One part of the social mobility strategy announced this week is about removing barriers to employment.  And I was very pleased to see a very simple idea that I floated during the passage of the Equality Bill (rejected by Labour – surprise) finally find its way into being.

This is a very simply idea for job applications where applicants don’t put their name or school on the application form – using something like their National Insurance number instead – to ensure that judgement is on experience, skills and qualifications in the first sift. The Deputy Prime Minister’s Office introduced the removal of which school the applicant attended in addition to the removal of name – for obvious reasons.

I long ago wrote a column for the Ham & High on this – pasted below.

What’s in a name?
I had two interns a while back whose surnames were Hussein and Patel. They were bright as buttons and of course, because that is the point of interning for an MP, they 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. It wasn’t rocket science to wonder if their surname was a barrier.

So I developed my theory that there might be a subliminal discard of applications because of an unconscious bias of some sort. My suggested proposal to counter any such bias is that we should move to anonymous job applications where the applicant uses something like their National Insurance number instead of their name on written application. 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 – that subliminal discard is out the way – and the force of character takes over. Lord knows, I have been in enough ‘equal ops’ panels interviewing to know that regardless of the scores and the weighting given to questions and answers – it is far more to do with the instincts of the panel about the person – than any of the ‘rules’ of interview. So getting through to the interview is key.

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.

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.

Not deterred by the outrage of the agencies that make a living from examining CVs, finding employees, etc – at Committee stage of the Bill, I tabled an amendment which would see this brought into law. The Solicitor General, Vera Baird (Labour Minister) after sneering for a bit, admitted that the Department of Work and Pensions, since I put the idea forward at second reading, 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 this were to become best practise – this would really blast apart one of the biggest barriers to work that people can experience. So – we will see in the summer where this goes.

Then the Mail on Sunday gets the wrong end of the stick and blasts the government for another bit of work it is clearly doing on the issue. Apparently the DWP sent out two thousand applications with false names to companies to ‘see if they are racist’. Well – firstly if the ‘experiment’ demonstrates that there is deep and systemic ‘racism’ then it is a valuable experiment. The Mail and the CBI are saying how dare the Government waste business time.

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.

I don’t know how many and what type of experiments the Government is carrying out to prove or disprove my theory – it is without doubt important to prove – so good on them for taking it seriously. If it is proved – then it will be important to remove that barrier. To have the qualifications and experience and be barred from getting through the first stage of job applications for some unconscious reason is not acceptable.

And to those who think this is about racism, sexism or ageism per se – it isn’t just about that. The Mail on Sunday jumped to that conclusion – but a little work to research the issue would have shown them that this is a theory based on science as well as subliminal discrimination per se. There has been some work done which shows that the brain reacts differently to that which it is familiar as opposed to that which it finds alien. That is why this is about eradicating subliminal reactions.

So what’s in a name? Quite a lot!

0 thoughts on “Name blank employment

  1. You are quite right.

    When the electorate sacks you will not want to put your name on a form if you are to have any chance at all of getting a job.

    Of course this is silly of me for two reasons. First, you do not need a job unlike the rest of us and second, a prospective employer’s reaction to your name on an application form would be anything but subliminal.

  2. And then you go to the interview and… oh. Because fighting against racism, sexism and homophobia by pretending not to be a POC, woman or GBLT person will only go so far AND puts a burden on the marginalised person to keep their marginalisation hidden away.

    And as an added bonus you have your national insurance number now sent out to all and sundry.

    Of course, equality and diversity monitoring is very good for telling if a company is maintaining an all white, all male or all straight staff – but that involves ticking those pesky boxes which your government is so against. It’s much easier to keep doling out meaningless gestures when there’s no monitoring

  3. I’m sorry. Britain has undergone a retrenchment in social mobility and a divergence in wealth in the last decade. Lamentable that this should have happened under Labour. Under the Coalition things are about to get a whole deal worse, not by default but by ideological design. The extortionate higher education fees, backed by the Lib Dems despite their election pledges, will have an enormous impact in further limiting social mobility and making access to higher education a privilege of the few. I’m well aware of the Lib Deb defence and assurances of numerous caveats but talk to current students and to young people who come from your constituency. I’m hearing the same story over and over again. Current and recent students are saying, faced with these fee levels and on the repayment terms being offered, they wouldn’t have gone into higher education. Future students from lower and middle income families are being put off by the real threat of career long debt. For the wealthier its simply another three years of private education fees. Many of the wealthier are delighted since it buys their children even greater privilege than private schools and removes that rather troubling annoyance of meritocracy. Universities will rapidly contract to become elitist private institutions. This is what is called market forces. It is wholly inappropriate for the Lib Dems and the discredited and increasingly despicable Nick Clegg in particular to be pretending to be somehow the champions of social mobility. Many of the electorate will exact their first democratic revenge by voting down electoral reform. Wake up, smell the coffee, you’re heading for electoral melt down and long term damage to your party. I personally think it’s a tragedy for the legitimate third party in the UK to be evaporated and am fearful of what new third party may be waiting in the wings. But even this is not as much a tragedy as the long term damage you’ve inflicted on both the infa structure of higher education and the opportunity for social and economic advancement of the next generation emerging from more ordinary backgrounds than the likes of you, Clegg, Cameron and Osborne.

  4. This is good news. Next I’d suggest outlawing other forms of sexism and racism in the workplace such as the recently introduced positive discrimination.

    best person for the job every single time please (and if somone really thinks two candidates are equally matched just conduct a second interview rather than recruiting using sexism).

  5. Wow. I’m surprised at quite how anti-fairness and outright trollish the first few comments are.

    If candidates from ethnic minorities suffer from discrimination, subliminal or otherwise, in recruitment practices then of course we should try to lessen the effect of this. I hire and fire for a team at an ad agency in London and we have a pretty good mix of people and the only problem with this suggestion, from my perspective, is that it’s much easier to deal with a batch of CVs if they each have a name attached — we’ve evolved a much better memory for names than for numbers. But there’s no reason those names couldn’t be pseudonymous, which could achieve the same effect.

    As an employer, though, having some way of identifying one of several candidates that’s better and more memorable than “the one who used to work at the BBC” or “the one who went to university in Norwich” is definitely very useful. That said, making sure I get the best person for the job, regardless of irrelevancies like their age, race, religion, gender or sexuality, is also a benefit, so this idea could definitely do with further exploration. And bugger what the Daily Mail thinks; they’re always gonna be looking for sticks with which to beat anyone further left than Maggie, whatever we do 🙂

  6. Sadly, while I have seen these suggestions in the past (I’ve even seen them tried for a short period) they still fail as people can easily read between the lines.

    Age, for one, can never be fully removed from a cd as the year when you got your A-levels, degree or first job will give a good (bad) indication. Working for a non-UK company or where you weren’t based in the UK can give an indication on nationality, albeit not an absolute guide, and if a form asks for groups you were involved with at college, or what you do outside work, then these can indicate sex and even sexuality.

    Disability is something else that might present a conflict where the applicant needs to be clear on the matter because of not wanting to be economical yet by the very act of being upfront and honest can lose the possible opportunity.

    And yes, I am female, well over 40 (55 next week), lesbian and have disabilities. Probably some of the ‘reasons’ why I haven’t been able to get a job in ten years. But that is the way things are; I didn’t know the right people (or maybe I did and they didn’t want me – the effect is the same!)


  7. “I am female, well over 40 (55 next week), lesbian and have disabilities. Probably some of the ‘reasons’ why I haven’t been able to get a job in ten years.”

    That has to be a joke surely? people have been falling over themselves to recruit females. just look at the entire the public sector for a start – state sponsored sexi

    I agree you age or disabilities might count against you, but if you want to blame your gender (or sexuality for that matter) I suggest you take a look at the respective unemployment rates first.

  8. HHM: Relative unemployment rates are a bit of a straw man given that many females are still taken out of the unemployment figures due to ‘being a housewife’, a condition under which most men would be counted as ‘unemployed’ if it happened to them…

  9. Your for anonymity is creative. However, if one is somewhat senior in an employment field one can easily be identified from what is in the CV.

    I gave up applying for work post transition when I was declared unsuitable (even for an interview) for a role (in MoD) that I matched 100%. I asked for the marking criteria that determined who would be interviewed (did not have). They then said ‘we have decided to re-advertise the post and they would allow me to re-apply’ (even though I was apparently unsuitable) . I then re-applied and they eventually stopped me by deciding to solve the vacancy in a different manner. Since that time, the agent that had been sending me vacancies, has ceased contact (I wonder why……). Prior to that I had other dirty tricks pulled on me.

    There is no effective law to protect trans women to get back into work, where ones background is known. The only (long term) solution for trans (and others) is to change hearts and minds and for this we need government support (actions that lead to effect). You should start with working out what the ‘public acceptance’ baseline is and then you have a measure against which one can assess progress. Start now and things should be OK in 2050!

  10. What *exactly* are you saying has happened? That Nick Clegg has introduced this for the Cabinet Office – so a token gesture.
    Or that it’s now the policy of the whole civil service? Something, but not much.
    Or that it will be the law? About as likely as your Tory friends abolishing tuition fees.

    As for “taking down barriers to employment”: you are responsible for sacking thousands of public employees.