BBC’s Inside Out, which aired this Monday, found a job seeker with an ‘English-sounding name’ was offered three times the number of interviews than an applicant with a Muslim name when applying for 100 roles detailing identical skills and experience.
A separate interviewee who featured on the programme explained how he had applied for over 30 positions to teach religious education at various state schools using his given name but was only shortlisted for interview after changing his name to ‘Harry Mason’.
Other research has similar findings
Although the sample size was small, the findings correlate with a separate study by the Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, which found that Muslim men were up to 76% less likely to have a job of any kind compared to white, male British Christians of the same age and with the same qualifications.
Kate Headley, Director at diversity consultancy The Clear Company, said;
“While it has long been recognised that personal information on CVs can be a catalyst for unconscious bias, these findings are nevertheless nothing short of shocking. Despite the fact that it is against the Equality Act 2010 to discriminate against anyone at work because of their religion or beliefs, these studies suggest that that those with Muslim names have a distinct disadvantage when job-hunting.
Equality Act 2010 covers the hiring process
Legislation is clearly not tackling the problem – and the BBC report shows a need for action. Alan Price, HR Director for Peninsula explains why employers need to make sure their recruitment process is unbiased to avoid these shocking results being repeated.
“The recruitment process is often an unexpected area where discrimination happens, however, the Equality Act 2010 provides equal protection for those applying for employment as those already employed. It is vital that employers recognise this and are not making any discriminatory decisions during recruitment. As this test shows, names supplied on application forms should not be used to filter applicants based on how English the name sounds or the perceived religion of the person. All recruitment decisions should be based on the needs of the job role or the criteria set out in the person specification and those carrying out the process should be trained on correctly carrying this out. A simple way of removing the potential for any religious discrimination based on names is to carry out ‘name-blind’ recruitment; where the name is simply removed. This allows those making the decision to focus solely on the skills, qualifications and experience outlined in the application.”
‘Name blind’ processes won’t remove the underlying behaviour
Kate Headley however believes that ‘name blind’ recruitment, whilst helpful in the short term, would not solve the issue of discrimination altogether. She says:
“While the benefits of ‘name-blind’ recruitment were explored by the programme makers, it is important to note that initiatives such as this typically address the symptoms rather than the causes of bias in the hiring process. CV based shortlisting is one of the most common places where bias can have an adverse impact on inclusive assessment, not only in terms of religion, but also ethnicity, disability, socio-economic group, gender and age. While removing personal data from CVs is a positive step, it’s like using a plaster to cover a wound. After twelve years auditing recruitment processes for some of the UKs largest employers, we know that what lies beneath the surface of policy, process and behaviour is the real issue.
Diversity training is important
Both Kate and Alan agree that training is the way forward. Kate says:
“Although recruitment is an assumed competency for hiring managers, few are actually trained in best practice. If an environment of real inclusion and diversity is to be created, it is crucial that employers invest in assessing their own recruitment processes and identifying what the real barriers to diverse talent are. The business benefits of organisational diversity are indisputable. Consequently, organisations which fail to recognise and address unconscious prejudice and bias in the workplace ultimately risk missing out on valuable skills, experience and expertise.”
“Carrying out diversity and equality training will also allow members of staff to understand the qualities and advantages of having a diverse workforce. Having an effective equality policy is also useful as a way of communicating the correct standards of behaviour to all members of staff. However, it is important this isn’t just tucked away in a handbook and everyone has located and read the policy, including any updated versions.
If HR uncovers discrimination, it’s time to act
However, if employers discover discrimination within their organisation, Alan says employers need to act:
“It is important that, regardless of how much time and training is put in to making sure racial discrimination does not occur, when discrimination does happen this is tackled immediately and appropriately. Having a proactive culture will reduce the likelihood of discrimination happening because those suffering feel able to come forward about their experience and those who carry this out are aware that this will be acted on. Any complaints of racial discrimination need to be handled properly and in a timely manner with formal disciplinary sanctions being imposed against the perpetrators as reasonable in the circumstances.”
Unconscious discrimination: no excuse
We’ll leave the last word to Alan Price:
“Discrimination can occur in the workplace without employers being aware of this, however, this is no excuse. Employers need to ensure they are adequately training staff on what is and isn’t acceptable, from recruitment decisions to everyday conversations to dismissal procedures.”