Is PR prepared for name-blind recruitment?

A ‘foreign sounding’ name will reduce your chances of landing a place with a leading firm or university.

That was the message from a BBC article published earlier this week. Reflecting on a range of academic papers, the article highlights the discrimination faced by job candidates and university hopefuls from ethnic minority backgrounds.

no10-300Implications for public relations

The academic research has prompted the Prime Minister to announce that Ucas will carry out ‘name-blind’ applications from 2017. The civil service, BBC, NHS, local government, KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte and Virgin Money have all committed to follow suit by removing the names of candidates from job applications.

Name-based discrimination is prevalent in public relations.

I attended a roundtable in Leeds earlier this year, during which a PR course leader revealed the severity of the issue.

“Postgraduate students that I’ve been teaching this semester are 90% non-European. I was shocked how many of them weren’t getting interviews when they used their original family names.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you try, as an experiment, changing your surname to an English name?’ All of them bar one got an interview”

I’m more than familiar with the lack of diversity in public relations but hearing the stark admission first-hand from a course leader was depressing. By shutting out such a vast number of candidates, public relations recruiters are starving the industry of diverse talent that can bring fresh ideas and creativity to campaigns.

Unconscious bias

Name-blind recruitment is designed to combat unconscious bias – the notion that all our decisions are influenced by implicit preferences, shaped by our social and cultural upbringing. But if this is the case name-blind recruitment may only tackle part of the problem.

“Name-blind recruitment is a misnomer as this initiative only removes names from applications i.e. affecting only one aspect of one part of the overall recruitment process” claims Harish Bhayani, Senior Partner, PRM Diversity Consultants.

“Biases occur throughout the whole recruitment process against all sorts of differences. The recruitment need is ‘diversity-blind’ recruitment’ or ‘inclusive recruitment’, something we work on every day with our clients”

Bhayani does, however, feel name blind recruitment can be “an important first step” towards tackling discrimination.

Whether the discrimination PR candidates face is a result of conscious or unconscious bias remains unclear. But it’s existance within a profession widely regarded as modern and progressive is inexcusable.

I’m interested to hear the thoughts of others on this. Should PR recruiters adopt name-blind recruitment? Would diverse candidates still experience direct discrimination at an interview stage anyway? Do organisations have a right to know the names of those applying for jobs?

Tweet your views @KorComms.

  1. Name blind recruitment is about treating the symptoms, rather than preventing the disease.
    Which in itself, might not be a bad thing, but it shouldn’t disguise the fact that there are other ways and triggers to discrimination – both positive and negative – such as country of origin or place of education.
    The university announcement from the Prime Minister was interesting, but if he was serious about tackling discrimination in favour of those with privileged backgrounds, then university applications would not just be name blind; they would be ‘school blind’ too.
    Applying that to PR jobs, the leap would be to look at educational qualifications, without the name of a university or school, and experience.
    This might sound fanciful right now, but it’s not long ago that you would have to tell someone your age or marital status on an application form.
    Perhaps this is the next step.

  2. It’s all very well to remove applicant’s names from their CVs, but recruiters will still see that they’re not from the UK if and when they invite them for an interview. Anybody who doesn’t want to hire a foreigner still won’t do it. Speaking as a foreigner myself, I’ll never know which jobs I didn’t get because of my nationality, and of course the recruiters wouldn’t tell me either for fear of being sued. Far better to claim that “other candidates had more relevant experience”.

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