Labour market discrimination has long been a serious issue throughout UK employment law, but a newly established government scheme is now challenging this thanks to a rule that no longer necessitates students include their name(s) on applications they make for either employment or educational positions. The intention of this is to eradicate the likelihood of employers making a social and/or cultural assumption about the candidate based on their name(s).
This new application process, known as a “name-blind” policy, is fully endorsed by the Tory government and will also mean that a potential employer will not not be privy to the candidate’s name until they are shortlisted for an interview.
The organisations actively lending their support to this new approach are responsible for the combined employment of 1.8m people in Britain, across both private and public sectors. These are some of the most recognisable names in the country, such as the NHS, the BBC and the Civil Service. Even many well-known privatised companies like Teach First, KPMG, HSBC and Virgin Money have voiced their support.
The use of name-blind applications has support from many leading scholars too. Vikki Boliver, a senior sociology lecturer at Durham University, conducted a recent investigation into the applications of several leading UK universities on behalf of the Russell Group and noted that from 2010-12 only 36% of applicants of ethnic origin received a university place compared to 55% of white candidates. Bolivier believes that name-blind applications “may help some” but that the change is “definitely not a solution” to some of the biases that recruiters hold.
Employer preference for employees with white sounding names is not a UK only issue, as recent French employment law studies show that applicants with foreign names are less likely to receive a response from an employer in France.
How did name-blind applications begin?
Changing the process of revealing applicant names began in 2009 when a government report concluded that UK employers place emphasis on arranging interviews with candidates with a western name despite other applicants showing the same level of skill and experience.
David Cameron recently explained that UK university admissions service, UCAS, is to embrace the name-blind application process beginning in 2017. This announcement comes in spite of UCAS’s own independent research which they claim found no evidence that a bias against ethnic names existed in their application process.
At a recent speech in Manchester the PM outlined the government’s stance on why name-blind applications are needed: “You send out your CV far and wide but you get rejection after rejection — what’s wrong?” “It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname.”
This emphasis on tackling discrimination at work is part of recent Tory intentions to alter the public perception of the party’s attitude towards race following criticism that the government’s attitude to Islamic extremism has led to some Muslims being unfairly investigated.
Could this lead to further changes?
Once the name-blind policy is enforced there could be further changes made in the form of applications that no longer require information on applicant gender. The ongoing controversy over the gender pay gap between men and women provides strong justification for enforcing this.
There is an average 9% pay gap in Britain regarding the gender earnings of employees aged over 40, although the gap for younger employees is falling. These figures come amid new legislation requiring large companies to release details on the bonuses paid to their male and female employees.