Just one in three black candidates feel recruitment agencies are fair, poll finds

Experts say findings are a ‘concern’ and urge firms to address distrust by reevaluating how they work with prospective employees

Black candidates are more likely to use a recruitment agency but less likely to feel they are treated fairly, new research has found.

A survey of more than 24,600 people, published today by Business in the Community (BITC), found that a third (34 per cent) of black respondents said they believed they were treated fairly by recruitment agencies, down from 38 per cent in 2018.

In contrast, nearly half (49 per cent) of white employees said they felt they were treated fairly by recruiters, up 6 percentage points since 2018.

The report also found that 71 per cent of black people with Caribbean heritage, and 67 per cent of those from African backgrounds, said they were likely to use a recruitment agency, compared to less than half (47 per cent) of white respondents.

Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said the data was a “concern”.

“As a sector, we should set an example; it’s the right thing to do,” he explained, adding that agencies needed to “have their houses in order” when it came to equality and inclusion.

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Carberry also advised that businesses that are organised around inclusion will set themselves apart with candidates and their clients, especially in this time of hiring challenges.

Sandra Kerr CBE, race equality director at BITC, also suggested recruitment agencies re-evaluate how they work with ethnic minority candidates. 

“The recruitment industry must work together to ensure that there is an open and transparent selection process when sifting through applications,” she said, advising that firms take strong action to address distrust.

The research did, however, have a number of positive findings. The percentage of employees who felt their employers were comfortable talking about race increased, rising from 37 per cent in 2015 to 41 per cent in 2021. 

More employers also appeared to be encouraging discussion about race. The study reported that there had been an 11 percentage point increase in employees who said their employers were helping them to talk about race, up from 22 per cent in 2018 to 33 per cent in 2021.

A separate study from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), also published today, found that while many employers had strategies in place to attract candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds, black candidates in particular were still facing barriers to entry.

Of the 235 organisations polled, more than eight in 10 (86 per cent) said they had a strategy to attract candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds, but just 54 per cent had a plan to attract black candidates.

It also revealed that just 44 per cent tracked retention of black employees, and 22 per cent provided dedicated early career support for black employees.

Less than a third (31 per cent) of employers said they provided specific ongoing support and development for staff from black heritage backgrounds. 

Arbi Rai, joint chair of the ISE equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group and senior manager of emerging talent recruitment at Lloyds Banking Group, said more needed to be done.

“This isn’t a problem that can be solved in isolation,” he said. “It requires an integrated focus within organisations and institutions, including strategic commitment not only from senior leadership but also at all levels in creating an inclusive and supportive culture.

“If a business isn’t prepared to do this then nothing will change,” Rai added.