UAE graduates to combat job recruitment bias with anonymous applications

Maimuna Rashid and Aqsa Khalifa have set up a career platform focused on candidate's skillset

Maimuna Rashid, right, and Aqsa Khalifa are the founders of Pupilar. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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A pair of enterprising UAE graduates are aiming to usher in a recruitment revolution by encouraging anonymous applications from job seekers to root out potential bias and discrimination.

Maimuna Rashid, 24, and Aqsa Khalifa, 23, set up the Pupilar career platform, through which companies make blind selections of candidates based on the results of job-specific challenges and tasks, rather than poring over CVs and Linkedin profiles.

Companies that sign up to the scheme do not have access to a person's identity, background, age, nationality or gender.

The business partners both graduated from Amity University Dubai in 2019 as high achievers, but found navigating the job market a daunting task.

We cannot eradicate this bias culture completely, what we can do is try to reduce this kind of approach to hiring young people
Maimuna Rashid, co-founder, Pupilar

"We had these high expectations that we would end up getting our dream jobs, but no matter how skilled you are, the system has a flaw that does not allow recognition of the right people and the right kind of talent," said Ms Rashid, who is from Bangladesh and has a bachelors degree in interior design.

“The process of hiring needed evolution so that instead of hiring young people based on CVs and social background, they would be hired for their skills, potential, and talent."

The pair devised their plan in response to high unemployment rates across the Middle East and North Africa.

“We have a massive unemployment issue in the region and we analysed every possible solution and understood it was a three-layered issue."

They said their three-pronged approach involved shaking up the recruitment process, improving training for youth and raising awareness of the need to create a fairer employment market.

A change in culture

Ms Rashid said it was incumbent on young people to develop their skills to keep pace with emerging industries, including the rise of digital currencies.

But she called for a sea change in recruitment culture, which often alienates students who were unable to afford top-tier colleges.

“There are different classes of universities that have higher recognition in our society and if an individual is not able to afford these kinds of universities, they miss out on opportunities,” Ms Rashid said.

“We need a mindset change."

She said through Pupilar, the team was able to speak with recruitment heads at organisations and question their practices.

"We cannot eradicate this bias culture completely, what we can do is try to reduce this kind of approach to hiring young people, and this will go a long way. I think it's a movement and it will take time, it will not happen overnight.

“We in the UAE take pride in diversity. But quite interestingly, when you go to hiring, there is a certain layer of discrimination happening."

She said some companies specified a gender for a role, but when questioned on this discrimination, often dropped the requirement.

How does Pupilar work?

Pupilar is aimed at people aged between 15 and 35 and has 54,000 graduates and students in its network.

The platform is free for job seekers, with charges levied only on companies using the service.

Ms Khalifa said challenges faced by candidates were essentially tests that could be tailored to a particular job.

“We do not want to be a one-size-fits-all system that is already out there. What makes us unique is the challenge model itself," said Ms Khalifa, also an interior design graduate.

"The challenge system makes it easier to screen but also makes it very specific to what it is that you need.

“Once they're through with the challenge, we recommend top profiles to employers. For some roles, we need to share CVs, otherwise we share a skill profile.”

She believes this system will better help employers to find the right person for the job.

She said the system helps employers get an idea of a person’s potential in the role they are being hired for.

Ms Rashid and Ms Khalifa were winners of the UEP Accelerators Programme held by the Mohammed bin Rashid Innovation Fund.

They are hoping to secure funding to support their project.

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Updated: October 14, 2022, 5:21 AM