On Monday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced that several public and private employers had agreed to make job applications for new graduates anonymous in an effort to reduce potential discrimination. Cameron's office said that private employers such as HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money and KPMG, as well as government employers such as Britain's civil service, had committed to removing the names of potential new employees from their initial applications to avoid revealing their ethnic or minority backgrounds.
For some of these companies, names won't be the only piece of data missing. Deloitte recently announced that its U.K. business would begin using a school-blind hiring process for entry-level employees and junior associates, "hiding" their education pedigree until an offer has been made in an effort to level the playing field.
The British leader also shared in an op-ed Monday that his government has agreed with UCAS, the U.K. body that processes college admissions, that it too will keep names off applications as of 2017. Reports said that student candidates would be identified by a code, and a name would be shared once they get an interview.
The name-blind applications were part of a flurry of new announcements from Cameron's office that relate broadly to his efforts to reach what he calls "real equality."
Over the weekend, his office, together with Britain's Women and Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan, also pledged to force larger employers to publish data about the bonuses they pay male and female employees. The team also said they would make the public sector share its gender pay gap data, rather than just asking that of private industry as previously announced, and would work with businesses to end all-male boards.
Cameron began his initiative in July to push companies to publish data on their gender pay gaps. After years of letting companies volunteer to do so — something only five companies did on their own — Cameron said he intended to force companies to share the data, launching a name-and-shame approach instead. This tactic has garnered some criticism, even from women's pay advocates who say its effectiveness still depends on what numbers need to be revealed and how big the consequences will be for not complying.
The newer announcement of name-blind applications is perhaps more straightforward to execute. Moreover, the problem of bias against ethnic and gendered names is backed up by years of research, and eliminating that bias could be one powerful tool in helping to level the playing field for women and minorities in the workforce.
In 2003, the Cambridge, Mass.-based National Bureau of Economic Research released a powerful paper titled "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?". In an experiment, researchers responded to more than 1,300 classified ads by sending identical resumes with only one difference: Some had white-sounding names and some had African American-sounding names. For the white names, about one in every 10 resumes got a return call; for the African American names, it was about one in every 15. A white name, the study found, had roughly the same effect as having eight more years of job experience.
Other studies have shown similar effects. One found the bias against African American-sounding names particularly strong in customer-facing jobs. And another particularly disturbing study found that black and Latino applicants with no criminal history, given equal resumes and applying simultaneously for entry-level jobs, did no better than white applicants who were just released from prison.
That same effect has been found in gendered names. In one study, scientists were shown identical resumes with one varying detail: The first name at the top was either "Jennifer" or "John." It turned out the scientists viewed the applicants named Jennifer as significantly less competent, said they were less willing to hire her or mentor her, and suggested paying her a salary that was 13 percent less.