My Face Is Not Anonymous
After the violence that erupted in the Paris suburbs in 2005, the French government adopted an equal opportunity law. In March 2006, an amendment was added mandating that companies with more than 50 employees use anonymous CVs- that they consider people's applications without identifying details like names, gender, age or nationality. The amendment made it up to the cabinet to decide the details, and for now it's been put into an experimental phase. Trade unions singed an agreement with the government in October agreeing to revisit the concept by the end of 2007. So, how will the concept affect the people it's designed for: job seekers? I decided to find out

[Ambi: mouse clicks]

Marie Noelle de Chevigny is looking at job announcements on the computer. She's just found one that looks interesting

Chevigny: Alors, assistante, chef de marquee- it's like assistance for a lancuh of a product. It's company specialized in the cheese- French cheese. The description of the job is very interesting alors-…

De Chavigny is trilingual and has a master's in international marketing. She's from Martinique, the French territory in the Caribbean- and she has dark skin. Three years ago she started looking for a long term contract as a marketing manager. She's still looking.

A typical French CV includes your name, address, age, and a photo, along with your work experience and education.

Chevigny: First I sent my CVs without photo. I had two or three interviews per week. I put my photo on my CV and I received perhaps one interview in three months. My CV without photo is OK. Because I have a name- uh- like- a name that make you think about old French nobility.

Studies have shown that when looking at a CV, recruiters consider name and age to be very important facts when deciding whether or not to interview someone- and to some extent, gender.

Chevigny: I collect objections- like a cocktail of objections- I'm young, 28 years old. I don't have a child, so people's think I will get pregnant later. I am from Martinique, I am a black people.

De Chevigny has never submitted an anonymous CV anywhere, but she doesn't think that it would help her much:

Chevigny: If we do an anonymous interview, OK. But you need to see the person. It's a matter of- a social problem. A matter of mentality. We can't change the way people think. I can try to not put my photo on my CV, but when I will go to the interview, I can't change my face. My face is not anonymous.

The insurance company AXA France introduced a policy of anonymous CVs in 2005. It was one of the first companies to test it out. Anne Forneau is in charge of sustainable development at AXA- and part of her job is to look at employee diversity.

Forneau: [translation] The anonymous CV is first a clear message about equal opportunities. The message is: Apply here. The CV is not at all a barrier, because it is anonymous

For now, the program is set up for recruitment of sales people only. And only internet applications are anonymous, because it's done automatically by a piece of software. The recruiter reads the CV, and if he or she wants to meet the person, a click of the mouse generates an email inviting the candidate to call for a job interview.

France has laws against compiling statistics about race or nationality. Forneau says this makes it difficult to measure whether or not the anonymous CV program is in fact making AXA's sales staff more diverse. Though she says she can feel it in new recruits:

Forneau: [translation] The salespeople that we recruit get seven weeks of training- And when you go into these trainings, you have the feeling that diversity has entered the company.

Why is diversity important? Forneau talks about AXA wanting to look like its clients in all their diversity- of needing to make sure the company has a pool of employees to replace a workforce that will soon retire- But she also talks about the bottom line. AXA is an insurance company:

Forneau: [translation] Looking at the crisis in the suburbs in 2005, we realized that this crisis cost a lot for the insurers, and we can't have more events like these- without being concerned about internal profits.

To some extent, whether or not AXA actually hires more women or more foreign born is almost besides the point. Forneau says the anonymous CV serves AXA is actually a recruitment tool:

Forneau: [translation] It's above all, a message, that tells people: Come here, we want to meet you

Farrah: It signficates for some companies that we accept that they are stupid. Because for me people who are not tolerant are stupid.

This woman, Farrah- she requested I not use her last name- has spent years searching for a permanent contract in France. For her, the anonymous CV is worse than useless- it's accepting that recruiters are biased:

Farrah: I think it's not a solution, because it means that its lying. I don't put my name and my last name and my photo, and it siginficates that I'm going to try to do an appointment with a person who will not accept me

Farrah has Algerian parents, and a name that is not typically French. Some recruiters have suggested that she change her name:

Farrah: My name is Farah- significates in Persian and Arabic, the joys. So if I have to change my name, that means my name I have to change everything. Because the person is stupid. They say I don't represent for the customer- it's better for the customer to have a French name like Barbara, or Celine. I think the solution is to change the opinion of people.

Changing mentalities takes a while, and for someone looking for a job NOW, it's not soon enough. Francoise Joulin runs an association for job seekers in Torcy, a suburb west of Paris. She encourages people to play the system—to recognize where there might be a bias- and address it straight on, by asking the recruiter questions like how do you deal with race in your company…

Joulin: [translation] Is it multicultural? Do you manage versatile and diverse teams? What's the social composition of your teams? Do you, for example, have people on your teams that look like me? And there you put questions to the recruiter who can't run away from them, and avoid the unsaid- which is where discrimination starts

This doesn't just apply for issues of ethnicity

Joulin: [translation] I have the example of a manager who stuttered. He had to sell himself with that difference. And he dealt with it that way-with the recruiter… He said, listen, I'd like to deal with the question of my difference. I stutter- How do you perceive it? And there the recruiter could talk about it.

That takes courage: to address an issue that you'd like to not be an issue in the first place. But until mentalities change - job seekers need to resort to creative methods of getting around biases.

[ambi: mouse clicks]

Marie Noelle de Chevigny decides that she's qualified to apply for the marketing job at the cheese company that she found online. She writes a cover letter, and emails it along with her CV—which has her name, but no photo

De Chevigny: OK! I just have to wait- fortunately for a phone call. Or unfortuatnely for an email or a letter.

The anonymous CV is probably not going to solve France's hiring discrimination problems overnight. For now the project has been put on hold. The government has agreed to evaluate the "experimental" programs at the end of 2007.

This piece aired on December 28, 2006, on Radio France International (English Service).

Producer: Sarah Elzas
Recorded in Torcy, Naterre and Paris, France.