Anonymous job applications reduce prejudice

by Stephanie Zillman14 Aug 2012

Late last year a pilot program concluded in Germany which saw eight major organisations adopt completely anonymous hiring practices for one year – the project was designed to test the effect that personal details have on hiring practices, and the results weren’t exactly as expected.

Organisations including Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom, L'Oréal, gift service provider Mydays, Procter & Gamble, the Germany Ministry of Families, the Federal Jobs Agency NRW and the Celle city government all participated in the experiment. The subsequent report revealed that the anonymous recruitment procedures demonstrably increased the chances of women and immigrants being asked for an interview.

However, the report’s authors stressed that because of the small scale of the project, the results were not necessarily representative of trends that could be seen in a broader sample size. Importantly, it was also not determined whether applicants from diverse backgrounds actually got jobs or were just invited more frequently to interview.

Yet according to Christine Lüders from the German federal government’s Office Against Discrimination, discrimination is more pronounced during the initial phases of recruitment when employers view CVs and are unconsciously prejudicial*.

Following the release of the findings, the head of Germany’s Institute for the Future of Work said that discrimination during recruitment costs the national economy billions, as many companies place their prejudices ahead of who is best qualified for the job. He added, however, that anonymous hiring procedures are not a panacea: objective and transparent selection criteria need to be established and followed throughout the entire hiring process. “It pays for companies to go for ethnic diversity, a balanced gender mix, and teams comprised of people of all ages,” he said. Yet he also noted a certain irony at play, whereby employers hoping to have a more diverse staff might be hindered in doing so by accepting anonymous applications.

This was also the finding of visiting professor to Macquarie University, Dr Klaus Zimmermann, who has written extensively on the subject. Zimmermann last week presented a seminar on the concept and potential of anonymous job applications, and told HC that whilst concealing identity can ensure vulnerable groups against discrimination, it can also hinder efforts to promote a desired diversity, eg. more female leaders.

However, all in all, Zimmermann concluded that making attributes such as name, photograph, gender, age and ethnic origin anonymous on job applications was effective at creating equal opportunity for all groups to get a job interview. It made discrimination virtually impossible in the early, crucial stages of the hiring process, he said. “Both hidden and open discrimination lead to an enormous waste of potential. Particularly the unequal treatment of women, migrants and older job applicants causes substantial economic damage. In view of the increasing shortage of skilled labour we can no longer afford this waste of resources – not to mention the social and ethical aspects of unequal opportunity,” Dr. Zimmermann said.

Following a reported drop in prejudice, a number of firms that participated in the pilot study decided to adopt the practice permanently, while others said they were satisfied with their diversity.

*Notably in Germany it is still common practice to include a photo with a CV, as well as personal details such as age and origins.


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