Having A Muslim Or Jewish Name… Might Trigger Hiring Bias During This Difficult Time (The name-blinding tool)

Just seeing/hearing a candidate’s name can cause them to be rejected because of unconscious biases. So, if you want to avoid religious discrimination, consider using one of the available name-blinding methods.

It’s a mistake to assume that the current Middle East conflict isn’t having a negative impact on recruiting. In today’s charged political atmosphere, I have found that many are surprised to learn that something as simple as a Jewish or Muslim name on a resume can trigger multiple unconscious biases.

Unfortunately, some employees will instantly use the candidate’s name to trigger “bad assumptions” about the candidate. These assumptions can cover both the positive or negative characteristics of people with this type of first, middle, or last name. Many in recruiting are further surprised when they learn about the breathtaking negative impacts of these name-driven biases on the accuracy of your company’s recruiting assessments and its diversity hiring. 

Many assume that they can “know you” based only on your name

Candidate assessors/evaluators often make unsubstantiated assumptions about an applicant based solely on their name. These name-based assumptions can include guessing an applicant’s gender, national origin, ethnic group, religion/values, and even age (because each generation tends to have different first and middle names).

Today’s Problem That Must Be Addressed

A major current recruiting problem (and for the foreseeable future) occurs when some resume screeners misuse a candidate’s name to guess whether they may be Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, or Israeli.

Depending on the screener’s perspective, these unsupported assumptions will mean that some highly qualified candidates will have their resumes unfairly screened out because they may be from “the wrong side” of the political spectrum.

During this highly emotional time, smart recruiting leaders need to adjust their recruiting protocols to reduce these unwanted name-based assumptions. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize these name-driven biases.

The most commonly recommended approach is the electronic replacement of the names on all received resumes with only the candidates’ initials. And even though this practice will startle some, research shows that redacting candidate names (a.k.a. name-blinding) will surprisingly improve both your overall hiring results and your diversity results.

The Surprising Difference That A Name Can Make

Yes, the impact that names can have during hiring is real and powerful. In fact, data from a comprehensive study (conducted prior to the current Middle Eastern turmoil) clearly reveals the tremendous negative impact that an ethnic name can have on the number of diverse candidates who are granted an interview.

The data reveals the painful truth, which is when compared to the resumes that were submitted with Anglo-Saxon names. 

In addition to the biases faced by individuals with Jewish or Muslim names, it’s essential to acknowledge and address similar challenges encountered by those who also face bias (the highest negatively impacted groups are listed first).

  • Chinese named applicants need 68% more applications to get an interview.
  • Black applicants need 50% more applications to get an interview.
  • Indigenous applicants need 35% more applications.
  • Women applicants are 30% less likely to be granted an interview (than men with the same characteristics).

At least to me. Each of these name-created-impacts are breathtaking to the point where they can’t be ignored. Fortunately, a “name-blinding” approach can by itself simply reduce the biases created by a Jewish or Muslim sounding name. This name-blinding tool is especially important when the biases towards both of these types of applicants are at their highest.

No matter how hard they try in this currently charged environment.
When a resume screener sees the name Mohammed or Elijah,
their unconscious or conscious biases are likely to interfere
with their objectivity at every step of the hiring process.

The Many Benefits From Name-Blinding

If you expect to get executive support for this blinding practice. You’ll first need to build an effective business case that will provide a compelling argument (for cynical executives and hiring managers) on the many benefits of this approach. The top 4 benefits include: 

  • Name-blinding will improve new-hire quality – successfully implementing this effort will give your recruiting function a measurable competitive advantage in your industry. Because you may be the only company in your industry that is proactively reducing name-biases early on, at the resume assessment stage. And because this blinding practice will dramatically reduce the number of times that a resume screener wrongly assumes that a name was an accurate indication of a candidate’s religion, culture, or national origin. As a result, many diverse candidates who would have previously been screened out merely because of their name will now be allowed to show their stuff during interviews. And with that added assessment, you will likely find things about these candidates that might override any initial biases. Diverse, high-quality candidates will stay in your hiring process much longer. The quality of the candidates on your final interview slate is likely to be much better, as well as more diverse. And that result will certainly improve your overall quality of hire.
  • Name-blinding will also increase diversity hiring – when you increase the diversity of your new-hires. That will create many positive business outcomes. More diversity is needed in almost every organization because diversity hiring regularly fails to meet its goals (less than 2% of surveyed companies report that they were “confident that they were achieving their DEI goals”). So, any action that increases diversity will bring with it great economic value. Multiple research studies have shown that diverse workforces are more productive, more customer friendly, they make fewer major mistakes, and diversity enhances all aspects of company recruitment and retention. 
  • Name-blinding may also reduce diverse candidate dropouts – when diverse candidates see that your company has taken proactive actions in order to reduce bias in their hiring process. That will likely stimulate many diverse candidates so that they will now decide to remain in your hiring process until the end.
  • Name-blinding will also reduce gender bias – obviously, gender discrimination during hiring is a huge diversity and legal problem in almost every organization. Unfortunately, giving a candidate’s first and middle names to your screeners provides them with an unnecessary opportunity to guess the applicant’s gender. As a result, hiding both first and middle names will result in as many as 30% more women being invited to your interviews. And simultaneously, you will experience a reduction in your legal and compliance issues regarding gender.

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More Things You Should Know About This Name-Blind Practice

If you’re serious about name-blinding, here are some other important things that you should know about this tool.

  • Don’t hesitate because we all currently use some form of blinding – blinding during recruiting is actually now quite common. For example, companies in most jurisdictions have learned to prohibit (or blind) the inclusion of a candidate’s picture on their resume because of the many discriminatory biases that a single picture can trigger in resume screeners. Many companies also currently prohibit (or blind) in many other areas of resume content, including age, gender, marital status, hobbies, or sexual orientation information on resumes. Recruiting leaders should realize that obscuring the candidate’s name will have the same positive effects that occurred after you banned pictures.
  • Avoiding Jewish and Muslim discrimination may require the binding of additional information – in addition to obscuring names if you want to further minimize the chances of revealing a candidate’s religion or national origin in their resume. You may also have to obscure their attendance at religiously affiliated schools, the languages that they speak, and any indications of where they live.
  • You should also consider a broader approach… blind-recruiting – many organizations are now beginning to go beyond their initial step of blinding names. Blinding additional demographic factors that are not job-related or may lead to unintentional discrimination. This broader category is known as blind recruiting, which expands the information that is blinded or prohibited. It also includes pictures, dates that could reveal age, ZIP Codes that could reveal where you live, the schools you attended, your grades, your hobbies, and the languages you speak. Note: If you need more details on this broader blind recruiting, they can be found here.
  • Benchmark organizations to learn from – organizations trying some form of this name-blinding strategy include Google, HSBC, Deloitte, KPMG, and the BBC.
  • Alert others about this current level of bias – during these turbulent times, in addition to reducing hiring biases. You should also make sure that managers and everyone involved in talent management are alerted to the fact that religious and national origin issues are now much more likely to occur throughout the workplace.
  • Don’t forget to measure the impact of name-blinding – in order to successfully blind names, you will need a data-driven process. And after developing and implementing it. Realize that the last essential step is to measure the percentage of increase in your diverse applicants. That made it to the interview stage before and after you began obscuring names.
  • It’s a mistake to assume that blinding can’t continue during interviews – finally, you must realize that some information can trigger biases, not just during resume screening. But also throughout the interview process. Below, you will find how you can do that.
    • Realize that blinding can play a part during interviews – cynics wrongfully assume that hiding the name of the candidate. Simply can’t continue to be effective once you begin the interview process. But the cynics are wrong. Because there are many approaches and tools for blinding the candidate’s name, face, and any bias-creating demographic information during interviews. Some of those techniques are listed below 
    • Continue to substitute initials for names during interviews – if you have been referring to a candidate with their initials. Continue that practice by altering your interview protocols so that everyone avoids using the name of the candidate. And instead, interviewers refer to each candidate using only their three initials (i.e., JJS). Obviously, also ask the candidate to refer to themselves with only their initials (i.e., hello, I’m JJS).
    • Use technology to blind bias factors during interviews – name-blinding clearly illustrates one case where technology can do things that employees can’t. The first step in information blinding during interviews is to video stream each of your initial interviews. Because on video, the candidate’s face and profile can easily be obscured. And if you don’t want to develop a complete video interview process by yourself. There are now vendors like Sapia.ai that offer complete blind interviewing packages.
    • Eliminate voice biases with voice modulation tools – because a candidate can reveal their age, gender, ethnicity, etc., with their voice. Some companies are already using voice modulation tools like interviewing.io to electronically alter a candidate’s voice in order to hide accents, age, and gender. 
    • Also, alter your face-to-face interviews – and when in-person face-to-face live interactions are deemed to be necessary, realize you can interview/audition a live candidate behind a physical screen. For example, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra proved that simply putting the candidate behind a screen wasn’t disruptive at all and that this blinding practice could improve diversity hiring by as much as 50%. 
    • What to do when personal introductions using names are part of your culture – the most difficult aspect of name-blinding during interviews is the fact that most candidates wish to be able to use their whole name during interview introductions. However, you can still have those personal, informal introductions where the candidate can vocalize their real name during either face-to-face or video interviews by first telling the candidate that informal introductions will occur after the interview is over. After the interview, postpone those face-to-face introductions for a few minutes until after the interview scores have been tabulated. Because once that scoring is completed, the chance for name or face bias to have any real impact on interview assessment will have already passed.

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How-To Remove The Names From Resumes

If you’re serious about implementing this name-blinding practice. Here are some name-removing options to consider.

  • Many ATS systems can blind bias factors – your name-blinding solution may already be available to you. Many modern ATS systems (e.g., Workday and Pinpoint) have added this blinding capability for resumes that are stored in their applicant bank. In many cases, you can simply ask your ATS system to replace the name on the resume with the applicant’s three initials. And when you have tons of applicants, the name can be replaced with an identification number that you assign.
  • Utilize vendor software packages for blinding – blinding is now a standard feature that is offered by recruiting software vendors like Blendoor or Ciphr. In addition to removing names, some vendor software can also remove pictures, addresses, education dates, and other potentially biased demographic information that you want hidden.
  • Manual removal – if you have a small number of applicants. Obviously, you can remove the names and substitute their 3 initials manually. And when you have a small number of paper resumes, you can use a marker to black out every part of their name but their 3 initials.
If you only do one thing without telling anyone internally what you are about to do. Have a friend from outside the company submit 5 resumes that contain the identical “clearly qualified” content for one of your critical jobs that is currently open. The first resume should be assigned the name of an Anglo-Saxon male, while the second should have the name of an Anglo-Saxon female. The third identical resume should have a Jewish name, and the fourth should have a Middle Eastern-sounding name. And finally, the fifth submitted resume should have a black-sounding name. After the initial interview slate has been put together. Secretly check in order to see which of the resumes failed to make it on that slate.

Final Thoughts

Even though the current Middle Eastern and Ukrainian conflicts are occurring in faraway places. Hiring managers and recruiters who work in distant locations. Still need to realize that the emotional impacts created by these conflicts will still be present in every hiring venue. Rather than assuming that there will be no impact on recruiting. Or that there is nothing that you can do about this name bias. Smart recruiting managers will instead take proactive actions to prevent these heightened emotions and their related biases from having any preventable negative impact on your organization’s recruiting results.

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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