Discrimination in Recruitment: Unfortunately, it IS still Black and White.

When I, and my business partner set up Global Talent 2020, we wanted to have a company that supported all levels of candidates and clients within the industry specialism of the Hospitality and Leisure markets.

We also wanted a culture of openness, honesty, fun, and expression. We never wanted oppression, corporateness, or facelessness, as a business. We wanted Global Talent 2020 to have a “voice” and an “inclusiveness” in the recruitment industry. We, and the team feel we have this, after three years, this has not changed, nor been diluted.

Unfortunately, this cannot be said of other matters currently in the world.

I am a child of the 1970s, and our Global Talent team are children of the 80’s and 90’s, collectively. So, all of us have grown up in a UK/World society that has taken strides forward in terms of equality, diversity, female rights advancement, gender rights, LGBTQ sexual orientations acceptance, gay rights, to addressing racial prejudices and inequalities, to name but a few epochs societal evolutionary moments.

As a team, we all believe that a lot of these moments in our evolution as a society, have come some way, but there is still much more work to do, progress, and change to further made.

Now, this combined blog is not about Global Talent 2020, nor its individuals within. It is not a puff piece either. It is a blog that focuses on a specific area, and actually only skims the surface of what is still apparent, happening as Ben, and I, write this, and you read it…..please think on that.

October is Black History Month, and rather than change our logo or just post a message of solidarity that gets lost in the noise, we wanted to post something a bit more meaningful. Something to provoke thought, and fan the winds of change, which of course is the ultimate goal here.

We decided to investigate the struggles that people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds face in our own industry of recruitment.

Is there an issue?

The very first realization after starting to look is the staggering amount of evidence, surveys, and reports that illustrate the discrimination in recruitment processes, and sadly still in the workplace. Both in the UK and all around the world. Usually, when you start a research project there is a fair bit of time dedicated to exploring websites and trawling through search engines to find what you’re looking for. Not this time, again an indicator that this is very prevalent in our societies.

There are pages and pages, literally thousands of blogs, articles, and scientific research papers to choose from for source materials, or for validation of facts and statistics. The other difference is that there is no argument here. There are no opposing views. It’s a widely accepted fact that there just IS a monumental problem with discrimination in the recruitment processes and the wider workplace. The questions now are:

What are the barriers facing BME candidates?

What are the solutions?

What can we do as Global Talent 2020 to make a positive change?

What are the barriers?

True Story:

The year is 2002. Kalisha White from Wisconsin, USA, is job hunting and has decided to submit her resume to Target, a nationwide convenience store hiring for multiple positions. After getting no response for several weeks, she submitted her CV under the name: ‘Sarah Brucker’ and immediately scored an interview even though she had taken out her qualifications on her resume. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Target on behalf of White and three other black applicants for $510,000.

Sadly, ‘whitening’ resumes is a real thing, with many companies being caught out.

Just two years after White’s application to Target a study was conducted with an almost laughable title, named to highlight just how ridiculous and obvious the problem was. (Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination: Bertrand and Mullainathan, 2004).

The report sent fictitious resumes to help-wanted adverts in Chicago and Boston newspapers with randomly assigned African American, or White-sounding names, importantly with the same level of credentials and qualifications. The latter received an astounding 50% more callbacks.

In one study in 2016 (Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market: Kang et al, 2016), 1600 resumes were sent out to entry-level positions in 16 metropolitan areas of the USA. Some were kept in their original form leaving details obviously highlighting the person’s ethnicity, and the same candidate’s CV was altered to leave these details out.

Across the board, the ‘whitened’ CVs received substantially more callbacks. Only 10% of black candidates were called for an interview compared to 25% when their CV was altered. Amongst Asian applicants, only 11.5% received a call back compared to 21% when they submitted the exact same CV with certain details removed linking them to their ethnicity.

What is the root of the problem here? Is it unconscious bias? Is it individual recruitment managers practicing blatant racism?

Unfortunately, the problem with Target’s example at least was on a wider systematic scale. In 2015 the company was ordered to pay $2.8 million after the EEOC found they used employment assessments as part of their hiring process that filtered out applicants based on race and sex, thus violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Let that sink in, in the 21st century we have a member of the S&P 500 and the seventh largest retailer in the United States violating the Civil Rights Act so obviously, and purposely across its recruitment platforms.

Unconscious bias is not a good enough crutch to lean on in these circumstances, according to a scathing report into workplace discrimination in the UK (Race in the Workplace The McGregor-Smith Review: 2017). Baroness McGregor-Smith writes:

“I have to question how much of this bias is truly ‘unconscious’ and by terming it ‘unconscious’, how much it allows us to hide behind it. Conscious or unconscious, the end result of bias is racial discrimination, which we cannot and should not accept.”

The report confirms everything you may think and offers an unapologetic summary of the situation:

“In the UK today, there is a structural, historical bias that favors certain individuals. This does not just stand in the way of ethnic minorities, but women, those with disabilities, and others.”

Structural and historical. Some powerful connotations and a bleak outlook on the current state of affairs. These statements are backed up by numbers: In 2015, 1 in 8 of the working-age population were from a BME background, yet BME individuals make up only 10% of the workforce and hold only 6% of top management positions.

Just 74 of the FTSE 100 companies replied to the request for data. A quarter of the biggest companies in the UK did not even try to help with this review into discrimination, which is a shock in itself.

It’s not the only UK-based report in recent years. The Prince’s Responsible Business network published a report on a similar issue: (Race and Recruitment, Exposing the Barriers: 2012). The survey was made up of close to 3000 respondents and asked about their experience with getting work through a recruitment agency.

57% of BME candidates were invited to an interview stage, compared to 73% of white candidates, and only 29% of BME candidates were offered a job, compared to 44% of white candidates.

Now you might argue several points here about suitability for the job, education level, etc. However, BME respondents were more likely to be qualified for degree level than white respondents and were younger on average.

What are the solutions?

It’s clear that there are systemic problems throughout the UK and Global workforce when it comes to racial discrimination, there’s no doubt about that. The whole conversation reminds me of a behind-the-scenes interview with Trevor Noah, presenter of The Daily Show on Comedy Central and comedian, who grew up in South Africa when Apartheid was rife. An audience member asks him between takes; ‘What is the difference between racism in South Africa at the height of Apartheid and racism in the United States today?’. A good question.

Trevor pauses before answering that during Apartheid the lines were very clear. If you were black you lived in this area, if you were white then you lived in this year. A horrible segregation obviously, but a clear one. In the United States, and many other developed countries across the world nowadays, racism is much more subtle. It’s rejection from job opportunities, rejection for bank loans, an arrogant and snide invisible discrimination that hides in plain sight.

The conversation around BME candidates in recruitment feels very similar. The policies and laws may be set in stone, but companies and individuals seem to use them as a shield along with the ‘unconscious bias’ argument to protect themselves against what is going on. People are being overlooked and rejected as a direct result of their ethnicity.

The funny thing is that this isn’t a difficult problem to solve. Nothing will happen overnight of course not, but the recommendations are there. No less than twenty-six coming from the McGregor Smith review alone which include:

Published data from companies with over 50 employees with a breakdown of employees by race, ideally by pay band available on their website and in annual reports. From 2017 this was brought into law for the Gender Pay Gap as part of the Equality Act 2010, so why not something similar? This will highlight any glaring problems in many companies and also help them set aspirational targets, another recommendation by the report.

Mandatory unconscious bias training for every workforce in the UK, and free online training supplied by the government. Let’s tackle the issue at its very core in a positive way, with every individual undertaking training, and furthermore specific training for senior executives and those in charge of recruitment. In RBS, mandatory bias training was rolled out to 40,000 staff, with 96% reporting they would recommend the training to a friend, and here’s the best bit… 97% would ‘do their job differently’. This feels like a real breakthrough. Imagine if 97% of working people in the world started doing their jobs differently because they are now self-aware of the actions and biases they may show.

Reverse mentoring is one of my favorite recommendations here. Senior and board-level executives seek out a junior colleague from a BME background to listen to struggles, or concerns, they have, and present back at the board level to their peers. Change starts from the top down, and what better way to gain insight into your own organization than from the people living it day to day.

With regards to recruitment, the Prince’s Responsible Business Network also had some good recommendations, again coming directly from those interviewed from a BME background.

  • Feedback at each stage of the process to manage candidates’ expectations.
  • Availability of alternative assessment methods.
  • Evidence of a diversity policy and practice.
  • Help with completing application forms.
  • Diverse role models.
  • Provision of adjustments for health, religion, and culture.

In all cases, listening to concerns and providing an answer is key, whether that’s feedback regarding a specific interview stage or about the company’s culture and diversity policies. It’s a golden rule in most businesses but especially in recruitment, clear communication and transparency are key.

Things seem to be happening and pledges are being made to tackle these, rather than have targets and statistics on a page. In 2017 PwC US Chairman and Senior Partner Tim Ryan founded ‘CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion’, a group of more than 1,500 CEOs across 85 industries who have all signed a pledge to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Is this just lip service, or a real promise from the corporate world to change the future? Time will tell but it’s a step in the right direction.

What can companies do to make a positive change?

Encouraging more black job applications and promoting diversity and inclusion within a company requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond simple outreach efforts. Here are several strategies that companies can implement to attract more black applicants:

  • Establish a Diverse and Inclusive Culture: Create a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion. Make sure your current employees, including leadership, are committed to diversity and inclusion, as this sends a strong message to potential applicants.
  • Implement Blind Recruitment Practices: Utilise blind recruitment techniques to remove bias from the hiring process. This might involve redacting personal information (such as names) from resumes during the initial screening phase to ensure that candidates are evaluated solely on their qualifications.
  • Expand Recruitment Networks: Build relationships with organizations, job boards, and universities that cater to black talent. Attend job fairs, career events, and conferences that specifically target underrepresented groups.
  • Diverse Interview Panels: Include diverse interview panels, so candidates see representation at various levels within your company. This can help black applicants feel more comfortable and show that your organization values diversity.
  • Promote Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Support and encourage the creation of ERGs for different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, including black employees. These groups provide a sense of community and can also help in recruitment efforts.
  • Set Inclusive Recruitment Goals: Establish clear diversity and inclusion goals for recruitment. Track your progress regularly and hold managers and HR accountable for meeting these goals.
  • Provide Unconscious Bias Training: Offer training to all employees, especially those involved in the hiring process, to help them recognize and mitigate unconscious biases.
  • Review Job Descriptions: Ensure that job descriptions and qualifications are not unintentionally biased or discriminatory. Use gender-neutral language and focus on skills and qualifications rather than subjective traits.
  • Offer Mentorship and Sponsorship Programs: Create mentorship and sponsorship programs that connect underrepresented talent with experienced employees who can help guide their career development.
  • Internship and Pipeline Programs: Develop partnerships with educational institutions and organizations that provide internship and entry-level opportunities to underrepresented communities. This can help create a pipeline of diverse talent.
  • Transparency and Reporting: Be transparent about your diversity and inclusion efforts, and regularly report on the progress you’re making. This transparency can help build trust and attract more applicants from underrepresented groups.
  • Revise Compensation and Benefits: Ensure that your compensation and benefits packages are equitable. Address wage gaps and provide a fair and competitive package for all employees. Actively participate in and support local initiatives, events, and organizations that promote diversity and inclusion. This involvement can help build connections with the community.
  • Continuously Evaluate and Adjust: Regularly review and adjust your diversity and inclusion strategies based on feedback and changing circumstances. Stay committed to improvement.

Remember that diversity and inclusion efforts should be ongoing and integrated into all aspects of your organization’s culture, not just a one-time initiative. By taking these steps, companies can create an inclusive environment that encourages more black job applications and attracts diverse talent.

Thanks for reading this….. less talk and all do more.

Written by Matthew Reeves and Ben Jones

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *