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Only a third of HR managers ‘confident they are not prejudiced’ when hiring

3 Oct 2017 By Marianne Calnan

Controversial survey suggests ‘alarming number’ rule out candidates based on discriminatory factors

Just a third (32 per cent) of HR managers report feeling confident they are not prejudiced when hiring staff, according to a controversial new study.

Close to half (48 per cent) admitted bias affects their candidate choice, while a further 20 per cent said they could not be sure they acted without bias when recruiting, the figures from digital recruitment platform SomeoneWho revealed.

Around three-quarters (74 per cent) of respondents reported witnessing discrimination during the course of a recruitment process, while a quarter (25 per cent) said they observed discrimination during recruitment on a regular basis.

The figures are likely to prompt widespread debate, though there is no suggestion that HR professionals are more likely to be biased than other functions with hiring responsibility, and the survey itself offers no comparison or broader context. The study also focused predominantly on HR roles in small businesses. 

“We all have personal preferences and bugbears — so it’s no surprise that bias creeps into the interview room to some extent,” said Andrew Saffron, founder of SomeoneWho. “But our research shows that an alarming number of HR managers are actively ruling out candidates based on factors that are discriminatory – education, accent or gender – which is clearly unacceptable.” 

One in 10 respondents admitted they would avoid hiring a woman applying for a male-dominated role, and a similar proportion (11 per cent) said they would be reluctant to recruit a recently married woman, as they were more likely to go on maternity leave soon. A fifth (18 per cent) of HR managers said they would overlook a pregnant candidate. 

Meanwhile, 10 per cent would reject someone who went to a state school and 8 per cent would cast aside someone who was privately educated. Around a tenth (11 per cent) would decline a candidate whose accent was hard to understand, and 4 per cent would reject them if their name was hard to pronounce.

Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, told People Management that employers and recruiters have a “mutual responsibility to create inclusive workplaces and ensure good recruitment practices.

“Employers need to be as effective as possible at attracting talent from all parts of society, and recruiters have an important role to play in challenging old-fashioned practices, and should promote open and transparent selection. Recruiters are uniquely placed to guide employers on how to attract and retain talent, as well as offer support to diverse candidates.”

Green added that small tweaks to hiring practices could have a big impact, and suggested ‘name blind’ recruitment could help prevent prejudice based on gender or ethnicity.

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, said the figures revealed that employers might be missing out on the best talent. “Unconscious bias training for all involved in the recruitment process can have an impact, and employers should look at having diverse recruitment panels wherever possible, and monitoring the diversity of applicants at each stage of the process,” she said. “This will help identify gaps and enable employers to put steps in place to ensure that the candidates they are hiring truly reflect the clients, customers and communities they serve.”

Meanwhile, separate research by Opinium, which surveyed 2,000 disabled people, found that disabled candidates had to apply for 60 per cent more vacancies than non-disabled candidates before finding a role. Roughly half (51 per cent) of applications from disabled people resulted in an interview, compared with 69 per cent for non-disabled applicants.

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