Labor promises APS gender-blind recruiting

By David Donaldson

May 14, 2019

Labor has announced it will introduce blind recruiting in the Australian Public Service if it wins government.

It would apply to the first round of hiring, reports AAP.

“In the Commonwealth Public Service, we’re going to have gender-neutral CVs,” said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Monday.

“We’ve just got to start eliminating what I call to be unconscious bias.”

The idea behind blind recruiting is that by removing names, gender or racial bias can be removed from the opening round of the hiring process. This does not eliminate bias entirely — candidates are identified during interviews, and it doesn’t fix broader structural issues that might give some candidates an advantage — but it is hoped this approach will re-balance the scales in favour of merit.

Barriers remain for certain groups in the workplace. Research by Andrew Leigh — then an ANU economist, now Labor’s shadow treasurer — found people from non-Anglo backgrounds must submit more job applications to get the same number of job interviews. Women continue to be under-represented at the APS’s senior executive levels, though there has been improvement in recent years. While they comprise a majority of all APS staff, and a majority of lower-level employees, women made up 43% of the SES in 2017.

Evidence from blind recruiting trials has been mixed, however.

Victoria’s two-year Recruit Smarter pilot program found strategies like de-identifying CVs and changing the language in job advertisements can have a significant effect in overcoming unconscious bias. For example, at the Department of Treasury and Finance, before de-identifying CVs, men were 33% more likely to be hired than women. After de-identification, women were 8% more likely to be hired.

A trial with VicRoads found removing country of birth from CVs gave foreign-born applicants an 8% higher chance of being shortlisted. Similarly, at the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, the chances of being offered a job for candidates from poorer suburbs increased by 9.4% when their CV was de-identified.

But a very interesting trial in the Australian Public Service found blind recruitment might hurt diversity. That research, done by the government’s Behavioural Economics Team, suggested there is bias in hiring — in favour of women. This meant that removing identifiers from job applications led to fewer women, and fewer minority women in particular, being shortlisted.

BETA director Michael Hiscox wrote that this suggested blind recruitment might not be the best way to tackle the under-representation of women in senior positions:

“This is critically useful knowledge. It does not imply that the APS has solved the problem of gender equality at the executive levels and higher — or lack of diversity more generally — but it tells us that rather than putting the focus on bias in initial reviews of job applicants, it may be more valuable to direct attention to other stages of recruitment, including how positions are advertised, how interviews are conducted, and how hiring panels are selected and run.”

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