News / Ottawa

Name-blind hiring process rolled out to reduce bias against job seekers

Six federal departments are testing a pilot project that will remove names from application forms to stop hiring biases against minority candidates.

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen greets and thanks Batula Ahmed, a chair woman of the Somali National Women Organization, for her support on Weston Road in October 2015. Hussen first delivered the idea of

Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen greets and thanks Batula Ahmed, a chair woman of the Somali National Women Organization, for her support on Weston Road in October 2015. Hussen first delivered the idea of "name-blind" recruitment to Parliament last year.

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 heel 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 UK, 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.”

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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.

“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 Treasury Board President Scott Brison.

“I welcome this opportunity to examine and explore new ways of recruiting top talent for a high-performing public service that serves all Canadians.”

Supported by the Treasury Board, the project will test the sustainability and effectiveness of the name-blind techniques by comparing outcomes associated with traditional screening with screening in which managers are blinded to applicants’ names. A report on the pilot is expected in October.

The six departments participating in the pilot includes 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.

Using data from a recent large-scale Canadian employment study that examined interview callback rates for resumes 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.

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