No sign of bias against government job-seekers with ethnic-sounding names, pilot project finds

Hiding ethnic-sounding names from resumes had no real bearing on who's picked from the pile of applications for jobs in the federal public service, a pilot project on blind hiring found.

'Ground-breaking' study kept key details hidden from interviewers

A pilot project on name-blind recruitment found no sign of discrimination against job-seekers with ethnic-sounding names. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Hiding ethnic-sounding names from resumes has no real bearing on who's picked from the pile of applications for jobs in the federal public service, according to a pilot project on blind hiring. 

A report released Tuesday by the Public Service Commission shows visible minorities were short-listed at roughly the same rate through a name-blind recruitment process (46 per cent) as through a traditional process (47 per cent).

"For visible minorities, results indicated no significant effect on the screening decisions of applications," the report concludes.

The federal government launched the name-blind hiring pilot project last April to reduce bias in recruitment based on the names and ethnic origins of potential candidates.

In a blog post today, Treasury Board president Scott Brison said the pilot project aimed to see if unconscious bias was undermining hiring processes and the government's efforts to build a more diverse public service.

He called the pilot "ground-breaking" and says it's in line with the government's focus on innovation and experimentation.

"The project did not uncover bias, but the findings do contribute to a growing body of knowledge," he wrote. 

"They provide us with insights to further explore in our steadfast support of diversity and inclusion in the public service; two critical characteristics of an energized, innovative and effective workforce, able to meet the demands of our ever-changing world."

17 departments participated

The pilot project included 17 departments and 27 external hiring processes between April and October 2017. It had a sample of 2,226 applicants, including 685 members of visible minorities (just under 31 per cent.) 

Jobs were in the scientific and professional, administrative and foreign service, technical and administrative support, and operational fields.

Applications in the blind process had the name, citizenship, country of origin, mailing address, spoken languages, references to religion, and names of educational institutions removed. The objective was to determine if applicants with ethnic-sounding names were disadvantaged in the screening process.

Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board, said the government is working to build a more diverse federal public service. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

While the findings did not reveal any bias, the report notes that reviewers were aware they were participating in the blind recruitment project, and that "this awareness could have potentially affected their assessment."

Because the number of candidates who self-declared as Indigenous (73, or three per cent), or disabled (102, or five per cent,) was small, the analysis was limited to visible minorities.

Among the participating departments were National Defence; Natural Resources; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship; Global Affairs, the RCMP and Statistics Canada.

Similar studies

The report notes other studies on blind hiring have had mixed results. 

A 2011 study in the Australian Public Service found that de-identifying applications at the short-listing stage did not appear to help promote diversity.

"In fact, when all candidate's information was made available, reviewers discriminated in favour of female and visible minority candidates," the report reads.

Benefits of name-blind recruitment may be partly dependent on the context of the organization, including whether discrimination is present in the hiring process and whether the organization has policies aimed at improving diversity.

In October 2015, the U.K. Civil Service implemented name-blind recruitment to reduce unconscious bias and boost diversity, but no systematic review of the impact has been carried out yet.

About the Author

Kathleen Harris

Senior Writer

Kathleen Harris is a senior writer in the CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She covers politics, immigration, justice and corrections. Follow her on Twitter @ottawareporter

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