No name, no age, no photo – Are anonymised applications beneficial?

Job ads for sought-after positions can easily generate over 100 applications. HR departments are required to put together a pool of interesting applicants within a very short period of time, which leaves little time to review each individual application. Every person has conscious or unconscious biases which also come into play during recruitment processes. Just a person’s name or gender can determine whether or not his or her application makes it into the pool.

Should job applications be fully anonymized in the future, in order to protect people from discrimination, as the Swiss Federal Commission against Racism (EKR) proposes? In Germany, experiments with anonymized applications have been conducted with positive results. Similar studies have been carried out in Switzerland as well. These have found that people who do not have the same chances with job applications, for example, because they are women or have foreign-sounding names, have much higher chances of getting a job in an anonymized process. This has led some companies in Switzerland to stop collecting data on the gender of job applicants. But is this the right solution?

If applications are submitted anonymously and applicants are no longer required to indicate their gender, then no gender-based data analyses can be conducted. This means that companies can no longer determine how many women, men, older or younger people, foreigners or Swiss are applying for various positions in their organization. At the Competence Centre for Diversity & Inclusion, we have been analyzing company data for years to determine who is applying for jobs, who is being hired and who gets promoted. This provides companies with valuable insights on how attractive they are as a potential employer, whether enough women or minorities are applying for jobs, or whether their recruitment and promotion processes are fair, etc. Companies participating in the St. Gallen Diversity Benchmarking can also see where they stand in comparison to peer companies.

The discussion about whether or not applications should be anonymized is important. Then whether we are HR managers, executives or employees, we all have unconscious biases. Specially designed training sessions can help to reduce these, but their effectiveness increases when coupled with facts about unconscious biases inside the organization. This is only possible when HR data is available and can be analyzed.

In our opinion, information about gender, age or nationality does not necessarily need to be omitted from job applications. A better alternative would be to leave this information out until the first round of selections has taken place. This can help to avoid discrimination while ensuring the necessary data is available for subsequent analyses.


Picture by francescoch on istock


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