Name-blind hiring could easily reduce hiring discrimination, and for some reason we aren’t using it

Here’s a study that I don’t think gets enough press.  To simplify a bit, in the early 2000’s a group of researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT sent out a bunch of identical resumes, some with the names “Greg” or “Emily” and some with the names “Lakisha” or “Jamal”.  The “black-sounding” names (which I know is itself a problematic concept, but work with me here) got roughly 2/3 the calls of the “white-sounding” ones.  And yes, for the few of you wondering, the study did pass statistical rigor.

I’ll give everyone a few minutes until they feel they’ve gone through their daily quota of guilt/outrage/depression/whatever.

Everyone done?  Okay.

So there’s a lot of questions this raises — unconscious bias vs. intentional discrimination, sources of prejudice, etc.  But here’s my question; given this, why aren’t we using name-blind hiring practices?

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, name-blind hiring — probably more accurately called “name-blind resume review” — basically consists of the following: incoming resumes are collected by someone with no input into the hiring process (probably some intern taking a break from sorting mail and filing stuff).  That person writes down the contact info, stores it somewhere else, and then removes it from the resume.  Each resume is then assigned a number and sent to the people actually making the hiring decisions.  They review things as normal and then select which ones are getting calls.  Someone then matches numbers to names and makes the appropriate calls for interviews.

It’s that easy.  This is one of few times that there actually is a simple solution to a complex problem.  No, it wouldn’t solve the entire problem of hiring discrimination — you obviously find out someone’s race at the interview, unless you take some truly bizarre and outlandish measures.  But since getting the initial interview apparently involves such a big discriminatory hurdle, eliminating that would probably help a lot.

This would be a net win for employers, too.  It adds maybe five minutes of work per resume received, and probably improves their workforce.  If you are hiring based upon criteria other than merit (and apparently a lot of people are), then you are hiring sub-optimally, and that’s going to hurt your organization.  If nothing else, it’s insurance against accusations of discriminatory hiring.

So why the hell aren’t we doing this?  Why aren’t more people advocating for this to be mandatory — either legally or through social pressure?  Why isn’t this one of the NAACP’s main projects?  They got affirmative action implemented and defended (so far), and whatever you think of affirmative action, it’s clear that name-blind hiring is much harder to argue with (and the two aren’t mutually exclusive).  Yet I can’t find any mention of it on their website.  For that matter, I can barely find mention of this as a solution to the problem anywhere.  Google “name blind hiring” and the first page is this study, one blog post that doesn’t explicitly deal with racial or gender bias, and a bunch of stuff on hiring discrimination against blind people (which is a worthy conversation to have, but not the current topic).  I wouldn’t know about this if I hadn’t heard it from someone on the TvTropes forums.

So, I don’t know, mention this to your boss, maybe.  Or your co-workers.  Or anyone really, because apparently very few people are taking this idea seriously, and I see a major benefit and no downside.  Am I just missing something?

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2 Responses to Name-blind hiring could easily reduce hiring discrimination, and for some reason we aren’t using it

  1. I would say it still doesn’t really fix the situation as much as you’d like to think, because you can still express your prejudice after the interview and just not hire the ones you would have not called back in the first place. :/

    • Hsere says:

      Depends upon how much of the phenomenon you think is due to intentional discrimination and how much is due to unconscious bias. If it’s mainly the former, then you’re probably correct. If it’s mainly the latter, then it could make a substantial difference.

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