Only three in 10 ethnic minority candidates believe they are treated fairly when working with recruitment agencies, according to a survey that exposes high levels of distrust in recruiters.
Business in the Community’s Race at work survey 2021 found that black people from Caribbean (71%) and African (67%) backgrounds are the most likely to use a recruitment agency, but only 34% of black candidates felt they were treated fairly in the process, down from 38% the last time the survey was run in 2018.
White people are the least likely to use a recruitment agency to find a job (47%), but are more likely than those from a black background to believe they are treated fairly (49%).
BITC’s race equality director Sandra Kerr OBE said: “The results from today’s survey show that recruitment agencies need to re-evaluate how they work with black, Asian, mixed race and ethnically diverse candidates.
“There is a reason why the unacceptable level of distrust between some job seekers and recruiters has remained a problem and the recruitment industry must work together to ensure that is an open and transparent selection processes when sifting through applications.
“The data is clear, there needs to be strong action to address the levels of distrust if we are to ensure that all candidates have a fair chance of getting a job.”
Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive Neil Carberry said it has amended its code of conduct so that candidates know that REC members are expected to treat candidates fairly.
“This survey emphasises again how important it is for agencies to have their houses in order when it comes to equality and inclusion. As a sector, we should set an example, it’s the right thing to do. It also sets firms apart with candidates and their clients, especially in this time of hiring challenges,” he said.
The report makes several recommendations for the recruitment industry and employers including:
- Critically examining entry requirements, focusing on potential achievement rather than which university or school the individual went to
- Drafting job specifications in plain English and providing an accurate reflection of essential and desirable skills to ensure applications from a wider set of individuals
- Larger employers ensuring that the selection and interview process is undertaken by more than one person, ideally including individuals from different backgrounds to help eliminate bias
- Seeking opportunities to provide work experience to a more diverse group of individuals and stopping the practice of unpaid or unadvertised internships.
The survey involved 2,654 white employees and 2,583 black, Asian, mixed race and other ethnically diverse employees.
Progress has been made in leadership accountability for ethnic diversity: 44% of those polled say their organisation has an executive sponsor for equality, equity, fairness and inclusion, up from 33% in 2018.
Race and ethnicity
Three-quarters of ethnic minority employees feel included in their team, up from 68% who reported this in 2018. However, 29% of black and 27% of Asian employees say that they have witnessed or experienced bullying and harassment from their managers and 38% of black, 29% of Asian and 27% of mixed race staff say they have witnessed or experience bullying and harassment from customers, clients or service users.
The report says: “Truly inclusive workplaces are free of bullying and harassment in all its forms. There has been no improvement since 2018. The time has come for government and employers to demonstrate through their words and actions that this will be stamped out, wherever it is found.
“The Employment Bill which was anticipated following Brexit and the Queen’s speech in 2019, but has not yet been delivered, provides an opportunity for the government to take action.”
Black graduate recruitment failing
Meanwhile a separate report from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) has found that efforts to hire young black candidates are failing to improve racial justice at work, with black graduates acknowledging that they were unprepared for “explicit and covert” racism, non-inclusive environments and poor senior representation after leaving university.
Although 54% of employers have a strategy to attract black candidates and 44% track retention, just 22% provide dedicated support during their early careers.
Interviews with black students and graduates also found that many are sceptical about the commitments employers have made since the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Black students are looking for opportunities to realise their own ambitions for a professional career in organisations that support and value their difference. They will not take diversity statements and branding at face value and will look for engagement with their universities prior to recruitment and the ethnicity of representatives in graduate recruitment teams, current graduates and senior leaders,” said Yasmina Mallam-Hassam, joint chair of the ISE equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group and head of employability services at St Mary’s University.
“This requires an integrated and systemic approach in collaboration with universities as talent providers, at all stages of the attraction and selection process, plus a range of support to nurture and retain black talent.”
The ISE outlined five steps to improve the inclusion of black graduates:
- Being an ally and recognising that challenging racism needs to be everyone’s business
- Preparing all students for diverse workplaces
- Ensuring that all employers involve people from black heritage backgrounds in making selection decisions and that they overhaul recruitment processes to ensure that they are not biased
- Maximising the potential of hires from black heritage backgrounds, recognising that changes to recruitment are not enough and that early careers support is needed
- Calling on all stakeholders to make more fundamental changes to ensure representation at all levels of their organisations and to lend their voices to wider campaigns for racial justice.