Name Bias in Tech & Digital Recruitment | Maxwell Bond

What’s In a Name? | Addressing Name Bias in Tech and Digital Recruitment 

Every single person has some level of bias, including me. This isn’t a controversial point, it’s just the truth. Whether we realise it or not, it’s there in all of us. And it’s important to reiterate that having bias doesn’t make us bad people. It’s natural. Bias does, however, impact our ability to make objective decisions, because bias makes our brains make shortcuts between people and ideas, that aren’t necessarily true and that can be harmful. These shortcuts often happen without us even realising, but they can have real world consequences. 

As a Digital Marketing Head-Hunter, I constantly see businesses struggle with how to address this unconscious bias and improve their hiring from a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) perspective. So, I wanted to look a bit deeper into the topic. 

Studies on Racial Bias in Tech Hiring: Name Bias and Assumptions

One of the most common things I have seen lately within recruitment is that having an ethnic sounding name can trigger some of these biases, because of shortcuts between ethnic sounding names and assumptions around communication skills and culture fit. I’ve sent over multiple strong candidates to a variety of businesses, with clear ethnic names, who have been rejected at the CV stage in favour of weaker candidates without ethnic names, without clear explanation. 

Upon further research I found a study launched by the British Academy in 2019, which revealed that 24% of applicants of white British origin received a positive response from employers, whilst only 15% of minority ethnic applicants, who applied with identical CVs and covering letters, received positive responses.

Further to this Raconteur reported that minority ethnic applicants and white applicants with non-English names have to send 60% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin. People of Pakistani origin had to make 70% more applications, and candidates of Nigerian, Middle Eastern or North African origin had to send 80 and 90% more applications respectively.

A Harvard Business School research piece found that companies are more than twice as likely to call minority applicants for interviews if they submit “whitened” CVs (CVs with no disclosure of race or ethnicity), than candidates who revealed their race/ ethnicity. A deeper dive revealed that 25% of black candidates received call-backs for interview from CVs that they had “whitened”, compared to 10% who got calls when they left ethnic details intact. Among Asians, 21% got calls if they used “whitened” CVs, whilst only 11.5% heard back if they sent CVs with racial references.

These case studies and statistics illustrate that this is not just an issue I am experiencing, but something that is far more widespread. 

Is Name Blind Recruitment the Way Forwards?

Name blind hiring is often seen to be the silver bullet in diverse recruitment because it has the potential to promote greater diversity and inclusion in the first stages of hiring (the CV stage). By removing the name from a CV, every candidate is assessed in the same way and using the same metrics. Therefore, in theory it should result in a reduced bias screening, which is great, right?

Yes, to an extent. However, there is the valid argument that this step alone just kicks the can further down the road and moves the bias further along in the recruitment process, to when it could arguably do even more damage. 

For example, I’ve heard stories from candidates who have turned up to their interviews to be met with shocked faces, and exclamations of “oh, are you here for the interview?” Immediately, that candidate’s confidence is knocked because they then have to head into that interview knowing that they weren’t what the person was expecting. Being interviewed by someone you know is either visibly uncomfortable or shocked by your appearance sets the tone for a really poor interview environment. It’s unlikely to result in a successful interview.

There are also questions around what other information may trigger bias, such as information alluding to class, sexuality, and disability. So how much information would you really have to take off the CV for it to be truly effective as a blind screening?

Addressing Bias in Tech and Digital Recruitment

So, what is the answer to bias in the recruitment process? What businesses need is a proactively inclusive approach where candidate diversity is addressed up front. But what does this look like in reality and are businesses ready to have that conversation?

How is your business addressing D&I? It’s such a complex topic and I am really keen to hear from my network their thoughts on this. 

Drop a comment below, or reach out to me directly to discuss how Maxwell Bond adhere to D&I best practices throughout all of their recruitment solutions and how we can help you improve your D&I.