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How can we prevent discrimination in recruitment?

Published: Thursday 21st February 2019

The capital city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, is set to ‘name and shame’ employers who discriminate in their recruitment practices. An initiative is being introduced that will send ‘mystery guests’ to apply for jobs and identify companies that are using unfair policies throughout the recruitment process to prevent discrimination. Initially, the scheme is being trialed in public service organisations, such as Schiphol airport, the port authority and public transport.The question is, should the UK be looking at introducing similar initiatives here?

A View of Amsterdam canal

Recruitment discrimination at the same levels as 1969

Even now, studies show that discrimination is still happening throughout the recruitment process in every sector. A recent study at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, found applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin. Significantly, when the researchers compared their results with those from similar experiments carried out in 1969, they found that the level of discrimination against black Britons and South Asian candidates was virtually unchanged. Most worryingly, as the study was conducted by sending out applications with typical names from ethnic groups, it showed that the discrimination was not unconscious bias. Applicants named Muhammed were less likely to receive a positive response than one named David.

Job recruiting advertisement represented by 'JOIN OUR TEAM' texts on the chairs. One chair is colored differently to represent the hiring position to be recruited and filled

Discrimination – The Race At Work Charter

While the UK government has highlighted the issue and strengthened the law in terms of the Equality Act of 2010, there is still no real consequences for employers who discriminate in subtle ways. Last year, a series of measures were developed by the government to help employers identify and tackle ethnic disparities in the workplace. The ‘Race At Work Charter’, which builds on the 2017 McGregor-Smith review, ‘Race in the workplace’ has been developed to address barriers to recruitment and progression within the workforce for minority groups. While signing up to the Charter isn’t mandatory, the government is also inviting employers to share their views on a mandatory approach to ethnicity pay reporting.

MIx of 7 of females and males in different professions

To date, at least 84 public, private (including the Big Four accountancy firms) and charitable organisations are implementing the five principles within the ‘Race At Work’ charter. These are:

  • Appointing an Executive Sponsor for race
  • Capturing data and publicising progress
  • Ensuring zero tolerance for harassment and bullying
  • Making workplace equality the responsibility of all leaders and managers
  • Taking action that supports ethnic minority career progression

Light trails from London buses and vehicles with the Big Ben of the Palace of Westminster in the background

Does the government need to do more?

There is light at the end of the tunnel, as other recent surveys found declining racial prejudice among the public, but more real change needs to happen in the workplace. One possibility is to have ‘name blind’ recruitment, as based on UCAS policy to prevent unfair bias in university applications, but this doesn’t prevent discrimination at the interview stage.

At Zoek, we understand the importance of diversity in the workplace and will only work with companies that actively pursue anti-discriminatory policies. Every Zoek Hirer is vetted so candidates know that they are applying to jobs with companies committed to employing a diverse workforce.

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