Diversity of Thought Blog

What’s in a name?

Last week, the Bank of Queensland received much praise for their bold move to erase names and other identifying information from resumes, in an effort to t recruit more women.

My initial reaction was positive, but as I sat with this news over the next few days, I grew more uneasy with it.  Is it really this simple?  Just remove names and *POOF* unconscious bias is eradicated?  The situation is far more complex than this.

It’s true that experiments with gendered names have proven that female names receive fewer call-backs (the same has been found for cultural stereotypes too, so unsure of how this will impact BOQ’s talent pool diversity…).  However, bias is a systemic process embeds itself into so much more than a snap judgement of a recruiter.

Let’s consider for a moment that a resume has no personal information on it – there is a whole lot more below those top few lines that will distinguish a male from a female applicant.  For example, women are less likely to secure highly visible projects, mission-critical roles, and international experiences are hallmarks of “hot jobs”. If they are in a leadership role, this is most likely to come from a support rather than line function, where they have direct responsibility for profit and loss or client service, which is seen as essential for rising to the most powerful positions.  In an effort to avoid the negative backlash against agentic women, chances are the language used in the resume of a woman will describe them as helpful, supportive and inter-personally sensitive, as opposed to independent, competitive or autonomous  – which are probably to way an ‘ideal’ candidate is ‘objectively’ described.  No doubt that the women in these roles have experienced a gender pay gap their whole working lives and have experienced sexual harassment or discrimination as a much higher rate than their male counterparts, setting them on the back-foot.

There is no doubt that recruiter bias based on applicant names is a real thing, but addressing the systemic causes of gender differences in our workplace stakes much more than erasing a name.  Gender differences in resumes and work history exist with or without a name on top to illustrate it.  Taking steps to counteract these biases and level the playing field does not involve a blindfold.  It requires the removal of hoods that made us blind to the significant, yet incremental processes that drive inequality, combine with real change in the form of deliberate and proactive steps to counteract these imbalances.

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