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Leon Kaye headshot

Is It Time to Remove Names from Resumes to Stop Bias in Recruiting?

By Leon Kaye

As the U.S. unemployment rate holds steady at 4.9 percent, we hear plenty of chatter about how companies are finding it hard to hire good help. Some companies even say they're forced to wage a “war for talent” in order to retain employees and attract top performers. But Mike Ettling, president of the human resources cloud company SAP SuccessFactors, says this ongoing struggle to hire on top talent is largely a myth.

In an interview with Forbes last month, Ettling says this dearth of talent is really the result of human resources recruiters not casting a wide enough net; and this stubborn problem can be largely attributed to unconscious bias in the workplace.

More organizations are trying to stop this problem, largely because it opens them to the risk of litigation over hiring discrimination. The results may be infuriating to the job candidate, but are a noble enough effort. Hence you may have a first interview by Skype or telephone, which may seem absurd when that company is located in your ZIP code. Or the questions may seem pallid and not even appropriate to the job in question: It is just that the hiring managers want to ensure that all of the job finalists have an equal shot and are treated fairly.

But the problems that hamper fair hiring practices are still all over the map. Job descriptions may be written in a way that tilts them in favor of the gender or personality type long linked to those roles. And much of the screening may be done by employees who will never work with that individual candidate once he or she is hired.

Some analysts suggest companies should go a step further and remove names from candidates’ resumes. The personal bias, after all, should be obvious: Recruiters and hiring managers, whether they are aware of it or not, may have a gut reaction against someone with names as diverse as Betty Sue, Mohammed, DeShawn or, in an extreme case, Keihanaikukauakahihulihe'ekahaunaele.

Silicon Valley, a region long accused of hosting companies that fall far short when it comes to diversity, is also home to a bank that's thinking about redacting names from resumes.

In an interview with Business Insider, one of Silicon Valley Bank’s human resources directors said the company began to consider such a move when it became clear that recruiters were quicker to question the credentials of female job candidates.

The bank claims employees have already undergone rigorous bias training. This included an exercise debating the merits of four different job candidates’ resumes – only to find out in the end they were from the same person, only with the names and genders entered differently.

The problem is hardly unique to the U.S. A 2014 study in France concluded that many companies tossed aside resumes that had “foreign sounding” names common in North Africa and the Middle East. A survey in the United Kingdom found that ethnic minorities struggled when applying to universities compared to the rate of acceptance for their white counterparts, despite having similar credentials.

The evidence suggests some companies are already launching name-free recruitment practices. Before the Brexit vote ended his tenure, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron urged the country’s public and private sectors to hire on a “name blind” basis. A study completed in 2014 suggests that, while such anonymous job hiring practices cannot eliminate all forms of bias, this practice can be a step forward for fair recruiting and diversity in the workplace.

Image credit: Brenda Gottsabend

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye