Recruiters 'have racial bias', claims report

Recruiters 'have racial bias', claims report

Recruiters are at loggerheads with equality campaigners after a controversial report suggested racism was prevalent among recruitment agencies during the hiring process.

Based on more than 2,500 job applicants’ experiences over the past year, the report showed just 29pc of black and ethnic minority candidates were offered a job through recruitment agencies, compared with 44pc of white applicants.

In contrast, when applying to companies directly, 29pc of both white and black and ethnic minority applicants were offered jobs, suggesting candidates were treated equally by employers.

Sandra Kerr, director of Race for Opportunity, the charity which carried out the research, said: “It’s hard not to conclude that some recruitment agencies see race as a factor in their decision-making processes – be it unconsciously or otherwise.

“It is clear that invites to interview and job offers are disproportionately skewed towards white applicants when going through recruitment agencies,” she said.

Other findings showed three-quarters of white people were invited to an interview through recruitment agencies, compared with just 57pc of black and ethnic minorities.

But recruiters hit back, questioning the research methodology and warning not to jump to conclusions.

Tom Hadley, of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents 6000 recruiters, said other factors such as experience could influence hirers’ decisions.

“The age profile [of people surveyed] is very different between black and ethnic minority candidates and white candidates. Employers are looking for people who have got experience, with experience being much more important than qualifications,” he said.

The study interviewed far fewer minority over-55 candidates compared with white people. “It does strike me as jumping to some conclusions,” he said.

He added that recruiters looked for skills that matched job descriptions written by employers.

Although more minorities surveyed were degree-qualified than white people, their qualifications may not have been relevant to the jobs in hand, he said.

However, Mr Hadley said the recruitment sector was “open to discussions” about what was causing more white people to get jobs than non-whites. He said recruiters voluntarily contributed to the survey, proving they were not defensive” over the issue. “I just wouldn’t agree that there is voluntary or direct discrimination against black or ethnic minorities,” he said.

However, Ms Kerr hopes the research by Race for Opportunity, part of the Business In the Community (BITC) network, would help bring about change.

She called for recruiters to train staff against “unconscious bias” and make sure applicants were judged on merit alone. She pointed to companies such as BT, which contractually oblige their recruiters to deliver diverse shortlists.

Gill Thomas, diversity manager at the communications giant, said BT recruitment managers challenged agencies if job shortlists were “too white and too male”.

She said: “The onus is on employers to be as open as possible and quite strict with the organisations they use in the recruitment industry to have diverse shortlists.”

Mr Hadley agreed employers and recruiters could work together more to break down any barriers black and ethnic minorities felt when applying for jobs. But he warned campaigners against using the stats as a “blame game”, or recruiters would be put off from trying to help dissolve barriers.

Five tips for recruiters to avoid bias:

Consider 'unconscious bias’ training for staff to check they judge applicants on merit, not race

Keep it relevant 
Steer clear of asking about applicants’ religion or culture

Offer help 
Migrant workers may need assistance to complete application form

Manage expectations 
Respond quickly to job applicants’ queries

Review website 
Check it is easy to follow

Source: Race for Opportunity

This article was originally featured on

Monday, 13 February 2012

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