With unemployment at its lowest since 2006 according to the Office for National Statistics, and the recruitment industry booming, it is important that employers searching for their next recruit know how to get the best candidate and avoid falling into any discrimination trap. 

And yet, only this month, a Manchester restaurant, the Laundrette, was in trouble for a job advert hailed as sexist on social media. Lisa Camille Robinson, a former recruitment consultant in Australia, alleged that when she worked there, her ex-employer had filtered out candidates with “Asian sounding” names. During the Conservatives’ Autumn conference last year, David Cameron cited research showing that candidates with “white sounding” names were almost twice as likely to get a call-back than those with “ethnic sounding” names. Shortly afterwards he announced that the Government aimed to tackle unconscious bias and announced that the civil service and a number of large employers, including HSBC and the BBC, will now use “name-blind CVs” and application forms during their recruitment processes.

So, what should employers do to avoid unconscious bias and could blind CVs be the answer?

Despite all best intentions, unconscious bias can creep into decision making and recruitment (and promotion processes) are notable danger points. It is essential that decision makers are thoroughly trained to ensure that they understand what constitutes unlawful discrimination. More than this though, training should be given to ensure that they understand how objectives such as wanting to find “the right sort” or “someone to fit in with the team” can result in inadvertently recruiting to a limited template, to the exclusion of potentially extremely talented individuals who are deemed not to fit into that template.

Blind CVs are essentially CVs which have been edited before the recruiting manager sees the candidate’s name. The thinking is that editing the candidate’s name will remove a key indicator of their gender, nationality or ethnic origin or even age and marital status and make it less likely that unconscious bias creeps in when applications are sifted and interview lists compiled. This would not be enough on its own to eradicate unconscious bias. To formulate a truly anonymous CV, employers could consider stripping out details of the applicant’s age/date of birth as well as other more subtle indicators of background such as such as schools or universities (eg faith schools), their address (which could reveal them to be from an area known to be mainly white or Asian). Even retaining unedited information on qualifications could nevertheless date the individual (e.g as O-Levels or CSEs were replaced by GCSEs in 1988, citing them on an application would today place the candidate in their mid 40s or later).

Critics of this approach have remarked that editing CVs too keenly can remove some of the personality demonstrated by how people write about themselves and, with the work involved in stripping out all of that information, surely it would be more sensible to insist that all applications are made using a specially formulated application form? Using a detachable front page with identity information such as name, address and other contact details (removed before the recruiting manager sees it) will undoubtedly mitigate the risks of unconscious bias. Ensuring that the questions in the form are clearly directed to the skills and qualifications required for the vacancy will maximise the prospect of finding the best candidate for the job regardless of their individual characteristics. This approach could also allow the opportunity for candidates to showcase their personalities within carefully constructed boundaries.

Ultimately, though, as the vast majority of job offers are made following face to face interviews and many managers will review a candidate’s Linkedin profile or other internet footprint before making decisions, neither blind CVs nor anonymised application forms will be a panacea. Whilst they may help to ensure a fairer mix of candidates make it through to interview stages, it will remain crucial that managers are properly trained to avoid discriminatory assumptions or decisions and keep their focus on the attributes required for the post so that the final recruitment decision does not fall foul of discrimination legislation.