Helsinki City Council to implement anonymous recruitment

The capital joins neighbouring Vantaa in its push for more equal hiring practices within the city organisation.

Cities in Finland are piloting anonymous recruitment to root out prejudice. Image: Pixabay

The Helsinki City Board decided unanimously on Monday to gradually implement anonymous recruitment measures starting in summer 2019.

Anonymised applications to municipal jobs would include no information on the applicant's name, date of birth, address, native language, gender or other details that could affect the judgment of a recruiting manager.

The City of Helsinki will update its recruitment software next summer, leading to better opportunities to develop anonymous hiring. City Board deputy member Anna Vuorjoki says the current system is not versatile enough for the challenging new pilot plans, and clerks would have to anonymise applications by hand.

The City Board plans do not include a schedule for the shift, saying only that it would bring about anonymous recruitment "by degrees".

"It's binding in a way, but the actual timeframe will be up to the bureaucrats," said Vuorjoki. "All in all I am happy about this direction. It is a clear, positive stance on anonymous recruiting."

The Board's proposal still needs to be handled by the City Council, but Vuorjoki says she is confident that the unanimous vote will send the measures through.

The City of Vantaa voted to renew its own anonymous programme in August, despite city manager Ritva Viljanen considering it too high-maintenance. In spring 2018 Vantaa recruited three permanent nurses in elder care and one permanent early childhood education specialist anonymously.

Fairness driving anonymity

The City Board's decision follows an initiative from Left Alliance city councillor Suldaan Said Ahmed, who brought the issue to bear in May.

"It's great that people across the political spectrum recognise that anonymous recruitment is extremely important for social parity," Said Ahmed said. "Helsinki can now show the way for the rest of Finland."

City Board member Daniel Sazonov from the National Coalition Party said the decision is important, as the city of Helsinki is technically Finland's single largest employer, with some 38,000 employees.

"It is a sensible and realistic solution," Sazonov said. "We must remember, though, that there are a lot of different tasks in the city, so it will take more than a snap of the fingers."

The media last picked up the issue of anonymous recruiting practices this autumn, after a group of well-known public figures applied for work using typically Roma names instead of their own, but sent in their real CVs.

The four people involved were author and columnist Tuomas Enbuske, art director and TV host Anne Kukkohovi, public speaker and media personality Jari Sarasvuo and radio host Meri-Tuuli Väntsi. Not one of them was even called in for an interview after sending more than 50 applications, leading to conclusions of systemic prejudice.

Delicate work ahead

Helsinki city recruitment chief Riitta Hellman said that there are real practical challenges in making anonymous hiring a reality. One of these is the freeform "Tell us about yourself" response section.

"It is a crucial part of the application, because it reveals so much about the motivation and attitude of the applicant," Hellman said. "It is not clear how this information could be attained without the applicant including personal information."

The freeform nature of the response will also increase workload, Hellman said.

"This is all about text analysis. It requires interpretation and can be very complicated. We may need to rethink the division of labour between bosses and HR employees."

The Helsinki City Board announced that it means to develop new recruiting practices based on experiences from the pilot phase. A report is forthcoming in 2020 at latest, board members said.