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In the Name of Equality / Yuval Simkhi

June 29, 2016

For some people, sending their CV to a job opening is a simple and even standard procedure. However, for others, this act is accompanied by a deep fear of discrimination – fear that a particular feature, unrelated to their skills, such as their marital status, their last name or even area of residence, might cause potential employers to avoid considering them for the job. This is not something new: Even talented authors like Harper Lee and J.K. Rowling used a "masculine" sounding name, out of fear that using their real names would hurt the potential of book sales and profit. 

In Britain, they found a creative solution to the problem. Thanks to the initiative of British Prime Minister David Cameron, many private and public organizations will now examine resumes without asking for the candidates' names. According to Cameron, there is a better chance for candidates with "white" names to be summoned for an interview than candidates with "black" names. The initiative is meant to prevent gender discrimination as well, and increase employment diversity in Britain. Among those employers who joined the initiative, in addition to government entities and municipalities, are large private companies such as the BBC. Supporters of the initiative claim that in addition to being in keeping with values of equality and freedom of employment, it also pays off economically for the employer. It is assumed that a workplace featuring gender, ethnic and racial diversity has a higher financial return from other competitors in the same industry.

Can what is good for Britain also work in Israel? The issue of names is on the agenda here as well, and it seems that many candidates (Arabs, Jews of Middle Eastern descent, Ethiopian Jews, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, etc.) might encounter this kind of hidden discrimination when looking for a job. The recent elections campaign of the Shas Party included a specific reference to the subject and protested against those who cause people with "ethnic" last names to feel ashamed of their origin. 

It is only recently that the Knesset discussed a new bill, which seeks to remove the name and gender from the resumes of candidates for jobs in the public sector. The bill was the initiative of Chen Abudaram, a Law student at the Hebrew University, and MK Yoel Razvozov from Yesh Atid is promoting it. The bill proponents hope it will help to enforce the ban on discrimination in the workplace. Its opponents claim that in Israel, perhaps contrary to Britain, the ethnic origin and gender of a candidate can be figured out at the resume stage by a variety of other data, such as military service, town of residence, and names of educational institutions the candidate attended. It seems that even if such a proposal were accepted in Israel, there would still be the need to examine how to adjust it to the specific problem of discrimination we wish to solve. For example, removing the name of a female candidate from a resume for the purpose of gender equality might be more appropriate for the proposed legislative tool, whereas it might be more difficult to overcome the discrimination of residents of the periphery with the same tool. 

The author is a student in the Multiculturalism and Diversity Clinic.