In The Media

Federal government’s 'name-blind' hiring pilot is important: Experts

by Alex Abdelwahab (feat. Andrew Griffith)

Metro News
April 25, 2017

The federal government's pilot project to implement so-called “name-blind” recruitment could be an important testing ground for a popular academic theory, according to experts.

“This should give us a bit of a real world data set. I think that’s useful to have,” said Andrew Griffith, a former director general of the citizenship and immigration department, who spent 30 years in the public service.

The pilot project will see six government departments remove names from job applications, in order to not be influenced from any unconscious bias during the hiring process. They will then release the results of the pilot in October.

Several studies, including a joint study earlier this year by the University of Toronto and Ryerson University, have shown candidates with foreign-sounding names get called for interviews less often than their counterparts with Anglo-Canadian names.

The six departments implementing the pilot include Griffith’s former department: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; the Department of National Defence; Global Affairs Canada; Public Services and Procurement Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada; and the Treasure Board Secretariat.

“There’s a real advantage to doing this kind of thing because I’m very convinced by the kind of analysis that shows if your name is Jane, you’re more likely to be called for an interview than if your name is Samaira,” Griffith said.

However, he cautioned that it worked best as initiative to screen people into the public service, and would not necessarily be replicable at higher levels within the departments.

“At a higher level, you’ll be known no matter even if you take the name off. Government is a large organization, but departments are not that large,” Griffith said, explaining the work examples within the applications would allow the recruiters to identify the candidate even if their name wasn’t included.

Ruth Wright, director of leadership and human resources leadership with the Conference Board of Canada, said she is very interested to hear about the results of the pilot.

“I certainly applaud the federal government for setting up a pilot around this because I think it will provide leadership for other organizations,” she said. “I think it’s something that’s maybe overdue.”

While similar initiatives have been done in other countries – in the United Kingdom, the government requires name-blind applications for university admissions, the civil service, local government and the BBC – Wright said she hasn’t heard of many examples in Canada.

“Taking on these pilots can only teach us things,” she said. “It has been slow to catch on in organizations.”


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