What’s in a name?

TV Personality Katie Hopkins controversially said that she judged her children’s friends and schoolmates on their names, causing widespread outrage. But does this apply to the business world? Do employers have a name bias?

The BBC’s Inside Out London conducted a test, whereby two fake job applicants applied for 100 jobs and whose CV was uploaded to four job sites. The CV from the candidate named “Adam” was offered 12 interviews, while the candidate named “Mohammed” was only offered four. Four recruiters contacted Adam, but only two got in touch with Mohammed.

So what is the difference? They both have the same skills and experience. The only thing that sets them apart is their name.

The BBC conceded that these results are “based on a small sample size”, but they say that it coincides with previous research.

What does the law say about discrimination?

As the law stands, employers cannot discriminate against candidates during the recruitment process on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, maternity, pregnancy, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. If they do, they are in breach of the Equality Act.

Not only does the Act prohibit direct and indirect discrimination, it outlaws discrimination by perception, for example, if you reject an applicant from a British white female because you think she is black due to her African-sounding name.

Are there measures which could help?

In 2015, David Cameron announced that he would be introducing ‘name blind recruitment’ to the civil service. This means that applicants’ names would be removed. Other big employers in both the private and public sector, such as HSBC, Deloitte and the BBC, followed suit. Some employers have decided to omit more information than just name, for example gender, age and even university to eradicate certain bias.

 But is blind recruitment really enough?

When the candidate enters through the door for their interview, they may be discriminated against and rejected – just at a later stage.

What about social media? A number of employers look at applicant’s social media to research candidates, get more information than is included in their CV and get a taste of someone’s personality to see if they could be a good organisational fit. But there is a danger that any information obtained this way could also be used in a discriminatory way.

Unfortunately, bias, whether consciously or unconsciously, can always creep in. Discriminating against applicants can mean you are missing out on the best candidates in the market. Rather than focusing on their name, place your emphasis on assessing an applicant’s suitability for the job and exploring the areas set out in the job description, person specification and application form.

If you need help with the recruitment process or understanding if your recruitment practices are in violation of discrimination and equality laws, contact our Employment Law Advisers for support and guidance.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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