What’s in a Name? Name Discrimination and Hiring in the UK

Published by:
Demetre Constantopoulos
July 23, 2019
min read

Debiased Hiring Bundle

Unless you’re The Artist Formerly Known as Prince or Arya Stark around season six of Game of Thrones, you’ll have a name. Half parental choice and half accident of history, the chances are you will be tied to your name for the rest of your life.

While there are many people who choose to change their name out of personal preference, others feel compelled to change theirs for more sinister reasons. In this article, we’ll explore the nature of name discrimination, how it manifests in society and the ways in which it can be tackled, especially when it comes to hiring in the UK.

What is name discrimination?

Name discrimination refers to a form of prejudice where an individual is negatively discriminated against on accounts of their name. This type of prejudice is often predicated on cultural stereotypes that can influence a person’s decision making, either consciously or – as we covered in another post and is generally more prevalent – unconsciously.

Our names are typically loaded with a significant amount of information about ourselves. From our gender to our ethnicity to our age, other people can infer (either rightly or wrongly) details about our lives just from looking at our names.  

Types of bias that can result in name discrimination:

  • Racial bias
  • Gender bias
  • Cultural Bias
  • Religious Bias
  • Class bias
  • Age bias

Name discrimination in hiring

While name discrimination can occur in all aspects of society, it is in hiring that it most noticeably raises its ugly head. The detrimental effects of biases such as name discrimination penetrate deeper than just the world of work; they bleed into the economy, politics and the wider society we live in.

As name discrimination is more often than not influenced by unconscious bias, it is particularly hard to recognise, especially when applying for jobs. Most people will write off a lack of responses from potential employers as bad luck or an error with their CV or application. Few would be so bold as to blame the unconscious bias of recruiters or curse the inherent prejudicial tendencies of human nature but, as the following studies will show, there are figures to support the suspicions.

The studies behind name discrimination

·     University of Toronto, 2017 – researches used data from an earlier study in 2011 where 13,000 fake résumés were sent to 3,000 job vacancies. Their study showed that people with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names were 28% less likely to make the interview stage than other fictitious candidates with English-sounding names. This was despite the qualifications and experience level being the same for all candidates.

·     French government, 2016 – a consulting firm commissioned by the labour ministry sent out 3,000 applications for 1,500 jobs advertised by 40 companies in six French cities. The study found that employers were less likely to interview candidates with North African-sounding names.

·     UK government, 2012 – an all parliamentary group study found that women from ethnic minorities who “whitened” their names or changed them to sound more Anglo-Saxon had to apply for half as many jobs to receive an interview invitation as those whose names sounded more foreign.

·     BBC’s Inside Out London, 2017 – even with a small sample size of two candidates and 100 job opportunities, this study reflected the same pattern of discrimination. While both candidates were equally qualified, “Adam” received 12 interview offers while “Mohamed” was only offered four.  

Tackling name discrimination in UK hiring

It’s clear to see that name discrimination is a prevalent and persistent problem in society. So how do we go about reducing it? While there is no silver bullet that can completely eradicate this indirect form of discrimination, there are ways to prevent it.

In 2017, David Cameron announced that UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) would be adopting a “name-blind” applications process for all future admissions. Other organisations followed suit, including the Civil Service, BBC, NHS, KPMG, HSBC and Virgin Money.  

While this is definitely a step in the right direction, it still leaves the door open for bias to creep in at later stages of the recruiting process. As Azmat Mohammed from the Institute of Recruiters explains:

“But the reality is that people carrying out interviews, at the next stage on from applications, are humans. The thing is for them to be able to analyse their own biases. Everybody has them and businesses are working to address this issues.”

Discrimination training may be able to address more overt forms of discrimination in the workplace but they will not be effective in tackling unconscious biases such as name discrimination, especially as it predominantly takes place during the hiring process.

Why stop at name-blind recruiting when you could go the whole hog and remove all irrelevant information from the process?

Eliminate name discrimination with a blind recruitment platform

Applied’s blind recruitment platform removes all unnecessary information from the candidate’s profile, leaving only the stuff that matters. This discrimination-proof process ensures businesses are always recruiting the best person for the job.

Check out our post on how to remove bias from your recruitment process or take a look at our resource centre for more guides in tackling all forms of discrimination.