UK firms agree to 'name blind' hiring to cut discrimination

LONDON: Britain's civil service and several major companies have agreed to recruit university graduates and apprentices without knowing the applicants' names in an effort to eliminate bias against people from ethnic minorities.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in a major speech last month it was "disgraceful" that people with "white-sounding" names were twice as likely as others to be shortlisted for jobs.

The goal of the new program is to make it easier for young graduates to get interviewed for their first jobs in an extremely competitive market.

Cameron's office said Monday that firms including international bank HSBC, accountants Deloitte, broadcaster BBC and the state-run National Health Service had signed up to the "name blind" recruitment plan, in which employers do not know applicants' names when they are selecting them for interviews.

Details are still scanty. The prime minister's office would not elaborate Monday ahead of a scheduled meeting with business leaders, and HSBC officials declined to discuss how the plan would be implemented.

It is also supposed to extend to the college application process, but officials said the timetable had not been finalized.

Cameron first raised the issue at his party's annual conference last month and emphasized it Monday in the Guardian newspaper with a column headlined "Conservatives have become the party of equality."

"Britain has come so far, but the long march to an equal society isn't over," he wrote.

The Conservative leader has also vowed to close the gender pay gap that sees women earn 19 percent less than men on average, according to government statistics. The government says companies and the civil service will have to publish details of salaries and bonuses paid to male and female employees.

Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan said it would "concentrate minds when companies see the gender pay in their own company of their employees, including bonuses."