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Is It Fairer to Remove Alma Maters From Job Applications?

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Oxford is located in Oxfordshire, UK. Oxford is located in Oxfordshire, UK. Arena Photo UK/Shutterstock.com

Last week, I wrote about EY UK (formerly Ernst & Young) scrapping their requirement that new hires have to have college degrees and baseline grades. Now, Deloitte UK is moving to change its hiring standards as well—by hiding what institution a candidate graduated from in order to prevent bias against people from non-elite backgrounds. According to a statement, the British arm of the company is tackling “unconscious bias” that happen during interviews.

“Improving social mobility is one of the UK’s biggest challenges,” says David Sproul, the senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte UK. “For us, there is also a clear business imperative to get this right. In order to provide the best possible service and make an impact with our clients, we need to hire people who think and innovate differently, come from a variety of backgrounds, and bring a range of perspectives and experience into the firm.”

Many in both England and the U.S. are concerned about a lack of social mobility in their countries, meaning that those born poor or working-class have little likelihood of moving up economically. A study by the British government last year reported that of those who held the 4,000 top jobs in the country, a disproportionate percent had graduated from a private university. The report concluded that Britain is “deeply elitist.” The OECD ranks the UK and the U.S. pretty low in terms of social mobility.

Will hiding the name of the university a person attended help matters? After all, many markers of being elite aren’t explicit ones like the name of a school, but subtle social cues.

In my interview earlier this year with Lauren Rivera, a Northwestern professor who studies hiring and management, she emphasized that “elite reproduction” happens in a multitude of ways when it comes to hiring. The elite firms Rivera studied not only valued the school a candidate went to, but favored those with certain kinds of social skills, knowledge about what kinds of stories to tell at job interviews, as well as those with elite hobbies.

So just hiding where a job candidate went to school might not root out elitist hiring practices, but some forward-thinking companies have been looking to pre-employment skills testing in order to hire candidates with the most potential. There can be biases in these sorts of tests as well (they are written by biased humans, after all), but maybe they’re the lesser of two evils. In an unstructured interview, people tend to hire who they like. At least when skill testing is involved, there’s some kind of reward for a person’s abilities.

(Image via Arena Photo UK/Shutterstock.com)

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