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Gender pay gap | Which firms have changed recruitment to remove bias

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Following the second-coming of the now annual gender pay gap figures, New Civil Engineer has carried out a survey to determine which engineering contractors, clients and consultants take the greatest effort to remove bias from their recruitment process. 

Earlier this month, employers across the UK were required to submit their annual gender-pay-gap statistics for the second time – and the results were a mixed bag. Many companies in the civil engineering and construction sectors reported pay gaps widening over the last year, despite a public push for better gender representation in the sector.

The release of the gender pay gap statistics has revealed that construction in the worst sector in the UK, with a average median pay gap of 24%, well above the national average of 8.6%.

New Civil Engineer reached out to a host of major public bodies, regulators, contractors, and consultants to see if the sector is doing all it can to recruit women into the industry.  

“Blind” or anonymous hiring is the practice by which as much identifying information about a candidate, such as gender, race, age, location is removed or redacted from the candidate’s application before it is reviewed by those involved in recruitment process. The core idea being the best candidate is selected solely on their merits, removing all potential (possibly unintentional) bias from the process.  

Bias in hiring (intentional or not) is well documented. A study conducted in Germany in 2016 submitted identical CVs to 1,500 employers using three different names, a Germanic name, a Turkish name, and a Turkish name with a headshot of the applicant in a headscarf. The Germanic CV received a 19% call to interview rate, while the exact same CV with the Turkish name and headshot received just 4%. 

Of the companies New Civil Engineer reached out too, 77% responded to our questions about their hiring practice. Of those that responded, only two companies confirmed they have fully adopted blind hiring practice; the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and Careys.  

Careys told New Civil Engineer that the firm has done away with traditional CVs, calling them “restrictive in conveying an individual’s capabilities” and have replaced them with “behavorial questions” written specifically for each job role. The answers to these questions are automatically anonymised by their computer system, and then scored on a question-by-question, not applicant-by-applicant basis – meaning all candidates are judged on equal merit, with no risk of bias creeping into the process. Careys reported a median gender pay gap of 24.1%.

The majority of those who responded said they were either trialling blind recruitment or using partially blind practice, where identifying information about a candidate is hidden, but information included in CVs is not redacted. 

Both Network Rail and HS2 Ltd said they were trialling blind recruitment for certain roles.  

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We believe that a diverse and inclusive workforce is a better workforce, and we are committed to attracting and recruiting more women, retaining them, and progressing female employees into higher-paid roles. As part of that commitment, we have started to trial anonymous recruitment for some roles, with various parts of the application redacted, such as gender, age and race.” Network rail reported a gender pay back of 11% this year, well below the sector and national averages.

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd (who reported an increase of 3% in their gender pay gap since last year) said: “HS2 Ltd has put in place a number of measures to help redress gender balance within the organisation and the industry. We have piloted blind recruitment which fully anonymises applications, and this has resulted in dramatic increases in shortlisting and hire rates for women. We are now expanding this programme within the business and encouraging our supply chain to embrace it.” 

Meanwhile, Crossrail Ltd said its hiring managers were provided with a candidate’s name but not have a candidate’s age, ethnicity or address location during the shortlisting and review process. Crossrail’s gender pay gap also increased this year, rising to 34.5%.

TfL director of diversity and inclusion Staynton Brown said the Capital’s transport body had made progress in improving its hiring but had more to do. “We have made progress with an increase in the proportion of women within our organisation, including in senior management roles,” he said. “However, we know we need to go much further and that’s why we are working hard to tackle the gender pay gap head on by continuing to improve our recruitment and hiring processes as well as encouraging more young women and girls to consider a career in the transport industry.” 

Engineering consultants WSP was the only company surveyed that said it did not take any steps to anonymise its applications.  

A spokesperson for the firm said: “WSP do not anonymise their applications as we are an equal opportunities employer and do not discriminate on any grounds, our selection criteria is based solely on qualifications and experience at CV stage.” WSP reported a gender pay gap of 22.8%, 5% lower than the previous year. 

Blind recruitment does have it short comings however, as candidates can only be anonymised up to point of interview and it eliminates referrals – which can be a vital element of recruitment. However, Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner told New Civil Engineer that the current approach to bringing women into the industry was failing, and it was time to adopt any new methods to improve our diversity. “As an industry we know that our current approaches to recruitment are failing to secure a workforce that sufficiently reflects the diversity of the communities that we work in,” Reisner said.  

“This causes a number of problems including reducing the number of candidates that we can select from, losing access to vital knowledge and ideas, and presenting an image to new entrants of a sector that is less attractive to work in. As such, we should be open to any approaches that help the sector to secure the vital skills that it needs to deliver in the future.” 

  • Highways England, Mace, and Arup did not provide New Civil Engineer with information on their hiring practice when contacted. 

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Gender pay gap | Which firms have changed recruitment to remove bias

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