Tackling Racial Disparities Through Name-Blind Recruitment

A couple of weeks ago the Government launched its race disparity audit. It made for important but uncomfortable reading. Admittedly, little of it is new. And, sadly, it offers no policies to tackle racial disparities. The Prime Minister is eloquent when talking about our country’s social problems, but so far the solutions she has offered have been inadequate.

One area the audit highlights is the significant disparities in the employment of black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals in the public sector workforce. The audit finds that BME employees are concentrated in the lower grades or ranks.

Fortunately, there are proven and effective ways of reducing racial bias in recruitment. ‘Name-blind recruitment’ is one such method. This is a process whereby the name of a job applicant is hidden from the recruiter at the beginning of the application process.

Research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions has found that applicants with typically white British names were more likely to be shortlisted for jobs than those with names associated with BME backgrounds. Name-blind recruitment limits this bias by removing the name from the application form.

A number of studies have demonstrated that this is effective in increasing the recruitment of BME applicants. This is because many recruiters may hold – consciously or unconsciously – biases against job applicants whose names sound “different” or “foreign”.

Name-blind recruitment is much more meritocratic. By removing irrational biases against certain names, it allows the recruiter to select the best candidate on merit alone. This is why the process is increasingly common in the private sector with high-profile recruiters such KPMG, Deloitte and HSBC rolling it out.

The Conservative Party has been quick to recognise the role this form of recruitment can play in ensuring a more representative public sector workforce. In 2016, the Government announced that name-blind recruitment would be rolled out to the Civil Service and NHS by 2020.

While this move is welcome it does not go far enough. Name-blind recruitment is not currently mandatory for the roughly 4,000 senior civil service roles. The audit reveals that the senior civil service is in fact significantly less representative than the wider civil service. In 2016, around one in every 14 senior civil servants was from a BME background, compared with one in eight of their more junior civil servants.

Similarly, the move to name-blind recruitment practises does not apply to all government agencies, including Non-Departmental Public Bodies. While the NHS will be required to instigate name-blind recruitment by 2020, many of the 380 government agencies and other public bodies will not be required to utilise this form of recruitment.

This is why Bright Blue recently recommended extending name-blind recruitment to all jobs in all civil service departments and government agencies, including senior posts.

Now that the Prime Minister has rightly highlighted the racial disparities that occur in our public services, she must begin to offer solutions to the problems she has identified. Name-blind recruitment is an effective way of making the public sector workforce more representative and meritocratic.

James Dobson is a senior researcher at Bright Blue