The industry's diversity deficit is not the fault of recruitment agents

I read Arvind Hickman's piece on 27 November - 'Recruitment agents accused of discrimination....' - with interest and, as someone who has worked in recruitment in our industry for my entire career, felt I had to respond.

You can't lay all the blame for the industry's diversity problem on recruiters, argues Colette Brown
You can't lay all the blame for the industry's diversity problem on recruiters, argues Colette Brown

There is no doubt that the industry has a diversity problem, with the numbers of BME professionals well below what should be expected.

That diversity problem extends beyond those from BME backgrounds, with many parents – mostly women – and others who require flexible and part-time working excluded or, at best, having to compromise materially to make headway.

To put the blame firmly at the door of recruitment companies, however, is not right.

Some of the recruitment companies in our industry have been at the very forefront of increasing opportunities for BME candidates – for example, the Taylor Bennett Foundation.

And it is often recruitment firms that offer services to clients such as blind CVs, where candidate names and educational qualifications are blanked in an attempt to ensure unconscious bias does not play a part in hiring.

The reality is that these approaches are rarely adopted by the firms that will ultimately make the hiring decision, while their requirements and recruitment processes are such that they nearly always lean toward a certain type of candidate from a certain type of background.

Cracking this is not just about recruiters being alive to the issue; it's about the whole industry realising that it reverts to type and needs to change its ways to make genuine headway.

There is also a catch-22 in play.

As suggested in Arvind's piece, if candidates believe recruiters to be biased and exempt themselves from processes as a result, then it's no surprise that recruiters don't find them jobs.

We can only work with the people who come forward. Without their candidacy, we'll always be peripheral to their careers.

Similarly, if recruitment firms don't return calls or try to persuade candidates to take inappropriate jobs, that may be about competence rather than discrimination.

After all, and as in any industry, there are good practitioners, and some less so.

When it comes to diversity, our industry should be a beacon for others. PR prides itself on being rooted in the zeitgeist and leading behavioural change for the benefit of society.

In the case of recruitment, that means I would encourage BME candidates to not be discouraged from working with recruiters; and for recruitment firms, agencies and organisations to embrace techniques that ensure bias cannot be part of the hiring process.

Colette Brown is co-founder of Prospect Resourcing


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