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How Recruiters Can Start To Combat Racism

By June 29, 2017One Comment

So last week’s blog about the recording of a racist recruiter’s rant caused quite a stir, which is to be expected. Much of the reaction consisted of varying levels of indignation and outrage, something we digital commentators have become pretty competent at expressing in recent years.

You know how LinkedIn messages now give you the option of hitting a prewritten response like “Thanks” so you can be even more efficient in dealing with your increasingly noisy inbox? Now Google are applying machine learning techniques to Gmail where prewritten email responses are suggested, but they’re now tailored to the way you personally typically react to stuff. Next we will have the same option to add comments to articles like last week’s, I’m sure.

The thing is expressing outrage isn’t enough. Even if you’ve written it from the heart rather than lazily pressed a prewritten machine learned button.

We must act.

Obviously there’s no place in our recruitment industry for the behaviour recorded last week. But what is probably even more damaging is the irrefutable presence of casual, subtle racism and unconscious bias that exists in our ranks. Maybe even within you, much as it grates to acknowledge it.

I was sent an interesting whitepaper on unconscious bias in recruitment by Fluent IQ this week which is well worth a read. There’s a few contributors you’ll recognise, including Troy Hammond, who accurately noted,

“It’s pretty common for a recruiter to scan a list of names in their applicant tracking system and check first for those that are familiar to them … so Anglo-Saxon names first then international names.”

Fluent IQ whitepaper

I’ve been battling with this notion all week. Some of the comments from last week, amongst the exclamations of shock and horror, suggested that the recruitment industry wouldn’t do anything to really combat racism. Couldn’t, in fact.

But, really, we must. The thing is, I know recruiters. Recruiters are driven by one thing above all else, and that is to close the deal. Make the placement. Bill the fee.

But the model most recruitment firms operate under, contingent recruitment, means most recruiters essentially work for free until that placement is made. So a recruiter will assess a candidate not just upon their suitability for the role, but also upon the likelihood their client or hiring manager will be interested in making an offer.

If a recruiter is working for a client that they know is open to a more diverse workforce and will judge a candidate on their merits rather than their name then all of a sudden you have a completely non-racist recruiter.

The issue pervading our industry is that we recruiters allow clients to brief us in ways that promotes casual racism or unconscious bias. But this is also how we can most effectively make a change.

From now on, if a client briefs you in such a way that compels you to select a shortlist based on race, refuse to work the assignment. Simple.


Unfortunately many recruiters will struggle with this and this is where we are our own worst enemies.

The challenge is for all of us to do this collectively. If a client can find no support from any recruiter to deliver on a brief with such requirements then they will either have to do it themselves or change their attitude towards a more diverse workforce.

Recruiters aren’t racist. Recruiters just want to fill roles. But if you work to a racist brief for a short sighted client then recruiters are complicit in the racism which is just as bad, if not worse.

The RCSA told me this week that the woman on last week’s recording no longer works in our industry. They are also planning a webinar on combating racism in recruitment with details to emerge soon. Get on it, get together, and make a change by changing your clients’ outdated views.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.

One Comment

  • John Harland says:

    Another very good blog Jonathan and your comments re unconscious bias are absolutely correct. I agree that the best way to combat this and other forms of discrimination is to not work an assignment which is discriminatory in any way and if recruiters do this collectively the action will have a chance of making a difference. Well said .