Diversity champions in the industry believe the recruitment agents’ bias is a barrier that talent from BME backgrounds needs to overcome in reaching the higher echelons of the PR and communications industry.
The brutally honest podcast, which looked at whether PR had a diversity problem and is due to come out this week, featured BME PR Pros founder Elizabeth Bananuka, Manifest London brand strategy director Julian Obubo and WX lead Zoe Stafford.
"From my perspective they are definitely barriers, and certainly barriers for others as well. I don’t apply for jobs through recruitment consultants anymore," Bananuka said.
"The frustrating thing about that is it means recruiters turn around and say, ‘we don’t get the talent [from diverse backgrounds] coming in’."
Bananuka said she wouldn’t "waste time" applying for a job she is "never going to hear from" through agencies and that the advances she does receive are for roles well below her pay grade.
"If [I get approached for work] from a recruiter, it’s often deeply undercut. I got a job offer from a recruiter last week...this recruitment consultant was calling me aggressively for a £22k job."
She says that in spite of her nearly two decades of experience in the industry, recruiters have never approached her for a job that offers more than £35,000.
"I’ve got white counterparts who I started with, trained with and were on less money than me who are now on double what I ever earned as a permanent. I had to go freelance to get paid what I’m worth," she said.
Manifest’s Obubo believes it is incumbent upon agencies to hold recruitment consultants accountable for producing non-diverse shortlists and recommends the industry adopt an equivalent of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires at least one ethnic minority candidate to be put forward when clubs recruit coaching staff.
WX leader Zoe Stafford, who recently set up a social enterprise with W Communications to attract talent into the industry from non-traditional backgrounds, said she has only received one job offer from a recruitment company during her career, which has involved working for WX, Puma, Stoked PR, MTV and BMG.
"Just reflecting, there probably is a real problem there," she said.
*Obubo, Bananuka and The PR Show host Arvind Hickman are among 30 speakers at the BME PR Pros conference - comms in a post mainstream world on Friday. Tickets can be found here.