Ottawa pilots ‘name-blind’ recruitment to reduce ‘unconscious bias’ in hiring

This pilot will provide some real world data to the existing blind cv studies that have been conducted by Oreopoulos and Reitz.

Wisely, the government has chosen to pilot this in a number of departments with different representation challenges, as shown in the table below:

As the government has largely met the goal of being representative of the population it serves, implicit bias may be less of a factor in the government sector. Representation is somewhat less at more senior levels, where implicit bias is likely less of an issue given that candidates are known.

It would be ironic indeed if the pilot, intended to test for bias against visible minorities, would show a bias for visible minorities, given some of the “over-representation” in some departments. In any case, a valuable exercise.

Ottawa has launched a pilot project to reduce biases in the hiring of federal civil services through what is billed “name-blind” recruitment, a practice long urged by employment equity advocates.

The Liberal government’s move came on the heels of a joint study by University of Toronto and Ryerson University earlier this year that found job candidates with Asian names and Canadian qualifications are less likely to be called for interviews than counterparts with Anglo-Canadian names even if they have a better education.

“It’s not just an issue of concern for me but for a lot of people. A number of people have conducted research in Canada, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. that showed there is a subliminal bias in people reading too much into names,” said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who first delivered the idea to Parliament last year as a rookie MP from Toronto.

“Name-blind recruitment could help ensure the public service reflects the people it serves by helping to reduce unconscious bias in the hiring process.”

Some companies in the private sector, including banks and accounting firms, have already adopted the practice, which removes names from application forms in order to stop “unconscious bias” against potential recruits from minority backgrounds.

In the United Kingdom, the government now requires name-blind applications for university admissions service and other applications for organizations such as the civil service, British Broadcasting Company and local government.

U of T sociology professor Jeffrey Reitz said the initiative is an important step forward but cautioned officials they must consult independent experts in developing the process and reviewing the results to make sure it is done correctly.

To conduct name-blind screening, he said, recruiters must remove any information on a resumé that would reveal the ethnicity of the person, such as name, birth place and membership in an association before coding the candidates in the talent pool.

“If the government is serious about it, they need to make the process transparent and allow researchers to look at the new procedures and the results,” said Reitz, a co-author of the Canadian study on name discrimination against Asians.

Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants said she hopes the pilot could benefit other minority groups, given studies have shown that white English- and French-speaking able-bodied women have been the primary beneficiaries of current employment equity programs.

“We hope as the government moves proactively to ensure diversity in hiring it will review the existing program and strengthen it to ensure the intentional inclusion of racialized and indigenous job seekers,” said Douglas.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who championed Hussen’s initial idea, said he welcomed the opportunity to explore new ways of recruiting talent for the public service.

“A person’s name should never be a barrier to employment. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is critical to building an energized, innovative and effective public service that is better able to meet the demands of an ever-changing world,” said Brison at the launch of the pilot at Ryerson Thursday.

The six departments participating in the pilot include Department of National Defence; Global Affairs Canada; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Public Services and Procurement Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada; and the Treasury Board Secretariat. A report on the pilot is expected in October.

Using data from a recent large-scale Canadian employment study that examined interview callback rates for resumés with Asian and Anglo names, U of T and Ryerson researchers found Asian-named applicants consistently received fewer calls regardless of the size of the companies involved.

Although a master’s degree can improve Asian candidates’ chances of being called, it does not close the gap and their prospects don’t even measure up to those of Anglo applicants with undergraduate qualifications.

Compared to applicants with Anglos names, Asian-named applicants with all-Canadian qualifications had 20.1 per cent fewer calls from organizations with 500 or more employees, and 39.4 per cent and 37.1 per cent fewer calls, respectively, from medium-sized and small employers.

Source: Ottawa pilots ‘name-blind’ recruitment to reduce ‘unconscious bias’ in hiring | Toronto Star

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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