IBM has recently been criticised for an online job application form that required candidates to choose their race from a dropdown menu. Options included ‘Caucasian’, ‘Black’, ‘Indigenous’, ‘Yellow’ or ‘Mulatto’. The Telegraph pointed out that the latter two of these were racially offensive terms referring to people from Asia and those with one white parent and one black parent. While IBM immediately removed the menu when it was brought to their attention, it does highlight the issues that can happen when it comes to ethnicity and recruitment discrimination.
Don’t fall foul of the law through discrimination
Ironically, in the case of IBM, the news story appeared just months after the US tech giant launched a new AI software package designed to strip out unconscious racial or sexist bias. The firm is also the subject of several lawsuits for age discrimination in the US. It’s a clear example of how UK companies need to be extra-vigilant when it comes to the complying with the 2010 Equality Act.
Under the UK law, when posting a job advert, employers are obliged to check a person’s eligibility to work in Great Britain, but are not allowed to ask questions regarding race, religion or nationality – unless there is a legitimate reason for doing so related to the job role. The same rules apply when it comes to gender, disability, religion, age, pregnancy and maternity, marital status and sexual orientation.
Job application discrimination still a problem in the UK
In 2017, PwC UK revealed that it was paying black, Asian and minority ethnic staff 12.8% less than other employees, while the bonus gap at the firm stood at more than a third. The company said that it had published the statistic in order ‘to shine the spotlight on ethnicity in the workplace and encourage organisations to take action’.
Further evidence of ethnicity discrimination when it comes to job applications were found in a study at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College. There, researchers found job 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.
Benefits for employers who tackle discrimination
Certainly, some stalwart financial institutions and multinational professional firms still have a reputation for being run by white men and have big gender pay gaps, but it might be the time that they took action to improve their employer brands as there are signs that the best talent is moving elsewhere.
Ruwan Weerasekera, the chief operating officer at Softbank Investment Advisers, says almost everyone working at his company was previously at one of the older, well-known investment firms. He believes the reason people are moving is that the firm actively invests in social responsibility and creating a heterogeneous pool of talent.
As well as complying with legislation to avoid legal issues and potential fines, employers looking for good candidates need to demonstrate diversity and inclusion to attract the best talent – something to consider when it comes to reviewing your own recruitment policies and job adverts. It’s something we’re well aware of at Zoek, ensuring any job adverts posted on our job board comply with equality legislation.