Does anonymisation in HR work?
There is a new tendency in recruitment processes to anonymise the details of all the candidates while sorting out a long list of potential good fits with the company. Some businesses have praised this system, saying that it has uncovered a surprising amount of unconscious bias in a system that they genuinely believed to be impartial and fair. Still, others have expressed doubts, seeing a drop in the calibre of candidates making it through the first cut. Let’s have a look at the benefits and potential disadvantages of such a system.
If you have a foreign-sounding name and are applying for a position with a predominantly white, westernised business, you are more likely to be automatically rejected based on small, otherwise ignored deficiencies in your CV. This effect can also be seen on social media, especially Twitter, should a person of colour, or someone with a name that is not western make a mistake or spelling error. These errors are seized on as, for some, people of colour must be held to a higher account than ‘normal’ people. *Disclaimer, ‘normal’ is used from the point of view of those who closely monitor BAME accounts while making allowances elsewhere! For this reason, anonymising the CVs will ensure that all candidates are held to the same standard: if small slips are allowed on one CV, they will be allowed on all.
And then again, no
However, for a company that is actively working towards being more inclusive and promoting diversity in the workplace, such an anonymisation process could have the opposite effect. Not because wealthy straight, white men are superior, but because the world is still in a position where wealthy straight white men are given more advantages and opportunities than poorer, BAME, female and LGBT candidates, especially those who grew up in communities that discriminated in favour of men. For example, a public school graduate who has had every advantage throughout his or her life: extra tutoring, access to books and knowledge, even the leisure time to study, will almost certainly look better on anonymised paper than a queer woman who has had to flee a patriarchal and theocratic regime, fighting and working multiple menial jobs to access education, even literacy. Without knowing that backstory, it is difficult to see the benefit in her application over the other.
And then there is the interview
Once the long list has been completed, the people making the final decision about whether to employ the candidate or not will see them: see their ethnicity, in most cases easily ascertain their gender, and perhaps even gain an understanding of their sexual orientation – or even draw conclusions from a reluctance to share information about a partner. This means that if bias exists, whether consciously or otherwise, it will simply present itself later on in the process than it otherwise would have done.
So: does the anonymisation process work for recruitment?
To summarise findings: yes, anonymisation can help marginal candidates to make it as far as the interview room and can ensure that each candidate is considered purely on their own merits. But otherwise, it can cause new issues, as stripping out too much personality can make a CV dry and dull, while CV gaps – easily explained as maternity leave or elderly care (still predominantly female concerns, despite the attendance to gender bias corrections in life as in the workplace) – can look worrisome on a purportedly ‘male’ CV. Each business should perhaps conduct blind tests: interviewing candidates blind first, and then trying out a non-anonymised interview process, and then comparing the results to see where, if anywhere, bias might be found.