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In my first year as a recruiter, back in 1989 London, I was working on an enthusiastic young candidate. She was confident, capable and interviewed well. Whenever I followed up with the client after forwarding her resume, I was greeted with a range of rather odd-sounding reasons not to interview her. When I asked my manager for some help, she took one look at her file and said ‘her name’s a problem’.

‘Why?” I asked.

‘Her last name is Holder; clients know that’s a Caribbean name and they generally regard young women of her ethnicity as unreliable’.

I was gob-smacked; not quite knowing how to respond to this feedback.

I would like to have thought that this attitude, 26 years in the past, is not representative of current-day England, however earlier this week I found out that this was, largely, not the case.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, conducted a roundtable which included the following executives:

  • Managing Director of Deloitte, David Barnes
  • Head of Human Resources at HSBC Tanuj Kapilashrami
  • Chief Executive Officer of the Civil Service, John Manzoni
  • Chief Executive Officer of NHS England, Simon Stevens
  • Partner and Head of Corporate Affairs at KPMG, Marianne Fallon
  • BBC’s Director of Strategy and Digital, James Purnell

The result was the PM’s announcement that organisations from across the public and private sector, together responsible for employing 1.8 million people in the UK, have signed up to the pledge to operate recruitment on ‘name blind’ basis to address discrimination.

Under this agreement, names will not be visible on graduate recruitment applications, reducing potential discrimination. Leading graduate employers from across the public and private sector who have committed to new scheme include the Civil Service, Teach First, HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money, KPMG, BBC, NHS, learndirect and local government.

Prime Minister Cameron said:

I said in my conference speech that I want us to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality in our country today. Today we are delivering on that commitment and extending opportunity to all.

If you’ve got the grades, the skills and the determination this government will ensure that you can succeed.

The announcement follows his speech to the Conservative Party Conference, where the Prime Minister cited research showing that applicants with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get job call-backs compared to applicants with ethnic-sounding names.

Do we have the same problem in Australia?

I would suggest so. It wasn’t that long ago that I watched an agency recruiter review a long list of applicants for a role, then opened the applications of the Anglo names first, before looking at the other applicants.

Of course the excuse is always something along the lines of ‘it’s clients preference’.

Frankly, that’s a weak cop out. One of the core skills of a recruiter is to present evidence that a candidate has the capability and motivation to undertake the job. Unfortunately ‘cultural fit’ is far too often used as a generic (and lame) excuse for ‘different’ candidates to be rejected based on nothing more than a non-Anglo name.

Until our various parliaments (state and Federal) contain, at least, a sizeable minority of representatives that are both female and of non-Anglo origin I suspect the brave and commendable step of the British Prime Minister (could there be a more Anglo name than David Cameron?) is likely to be years in advance of a similar step in this country.

I hope not.

In the meantime I look forward to hearing, in the near future, what policy the RCSA might consider on the topic of name-blind recruitment. Current RCSA national President, Robert van Stokrom, stated to me yesterday that the RCSA will ‘observe with interest’ how things play out in the UK.

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Discrimination by name has been going on for years. Some businesses won't interview someone if they can't pronounce or spell the applicants surname.
Interesting thing is people with those types of surnames sometimes communicate better than people with "acceptable" surnames.

Alan Whitford

Hi Ross
Good well thought out article, as usual.

Let me start with this statement: I applaud any efforts to limit discrimination in the hiring process and in the workplace.

I find this 'name blind' approach to still be a bit of a cop out and easy route for employers to appear to be recruiting fairly (as the law requires them to do). What this does not address, of course, is what happens when the candidate walks in the door for the first interview. For discriminatory employers, that will be the 'Oh Shoot' moment.

This approach roughly parallels the idea that video screening and interviewing should be scrapped because of the potential for discrimination based on looks/gender etc at that stage, rather than at the physical interview stage.

There has been little thought on the effort required to reconfigure the thousands of ATS implementations which do not allow for 'name blind' submissions – in fact almost all ATS systems use the name as part of the de-duplication process.

What about those unsavoury recruiters (yes, I am afraid there are still some out there), who will adhere to name blind CV submission, yet make that 'nod, wink' phone call to the employer.

What government and employers might better spend some effort and money on is training and education in the workplace to attack discrimination during the interview and employment jouney, and enforcing existing legislation.

I am sure that this one is going to run and run.

Looking forward to the debate – and to making hiring fair and equal for all.

Best regards


Agree totally that discrimination is a shame and a disgrace, but it is still very prevalent in todays business culture I'm afraid. I cant begin to tell you the mount of employers who will tell us that they are after a certain type of person, certain age range, gender and must not have names that are from overseas. It's then up to us to massage all that into the politically correct ad and recruitment campaign to go live. Do I agree – no, have I told the employer – yes, but there is simply no point in sending them a resume of someone they don't feel is what they want, so we send them what they want, placements are made, candidate happy, other candidates simply informed they have been unsuccessful when in fact they were never considered anyway.

This certainly still goes on right here in Australia every day of the week.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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