Passive Racism in Modern Recruitment

Brexit, Trump, restrictions on immigration, building walls… these are the themes and refrains of the last 12 months blasting from our news channels. Then there’s the weekly acts of terrorism planting grief, horror, and fear throughout the developed world. It is almost impossible not to be affected by the powerful emotions involved.
But, day in and day out, we all have to get up and go to work, assume our work personas and get on with it. For professional recruiters filtering, screening, and interviewing every day, what impact is all this noise having on their unconscious bias and their ability to select the “best person for the job”?
Rabid Trump/Le Pen supporters see  immigrants as “dole bludgers”, “job stealers”, or even worse, “bomb makers”. As recruitment and talent professionals, we are all smart enough to stay away from that kind of invective and out and out racism. But, something’s going on and the data proves it when research shows that it is three times harder for a candidate with a “foreign” name to get an interview than one with a moniker more “local”.
[bctt tweet=”With all the ‘noise’ generated from the media, is it still possible for a recruiter to remain bias-free?” via=”no”]
We are all aware of the enormous gain a diverse workforce brings to an organisation. Here’s a quick stat that might knock your socks off and underlines everything you know about diversity and its benefits: Silicon Valley, seen globally as the premier hotbed of 21st century innovation, hosts a tech population that is roughly 74 percent foreign born. Some of these are offshore workers. Most of them are non-native English speakers.
And – of course – you know the data on STEM talent shortages – by 2020, the US will be short by one million, EU by 900,000 and Australia by 700,000.  But “unconscious bias” knocks back the very global talent base that have the skills and experience required.
It’s time for all of us to become extraordinarily self aware of the “unconscious bias” at play within ourselves and within our organisations. Diversity is not just gender and race related. It encompasses nationality and ethnicity as well. We need to completely change our “apertures” with regards to our own ideas of what equals a “perfect candidate”. We all have one in our mind whenever we read a job description. And our filtering, screening, and selection processes are currently geared towards confirming our own bias.
The majority of businesses have passive bias in their hiring practices for people with English as a second language and who are instantly identifiable as “foreign”.  By “passive”, I’m referring to a HR/internal or agency recruiter that sees the country of origin or hard to pronounce name on an application and hits the NO without even looking at the candidate’s details. This is absolutely common practice globally.
This action isn’t fueled by racist purpose or an anti-diversity agenda, it is simply a matter of time. Professional recruiters are time poor and it takes time to filter through these candidates, screen them, and work out whether or not they have the English communication skills and “cultural fit” for the role to be filled. It’s much more comfortable to select a known quantity than an unknown for both the recruiter and the hiring manager. This behaviour is borne simply out of expedience and an aversion to risk.
Now imagine this, what if you tried something different? You filter all your candidates first for their English communication ability. In doing this, you will immediately be able to identify all the “foreign” applicants who could go toe to toe with a “local”. Then you filter based on skills and experience, and you will be left with a group of candidates that is worthy of serious consideration. Now you are left with a much smaller subset of Talent who are all on an even playing field. Because you have used a data led approach to arrive at your selections, you can back your decisions and judgements more confidently.
Using this approach, you will be far more likely to be hiring from a larger talent pool than your competitors, who are fighting for room at the same old fishing ground.
I recall recently sitting in a cab on my way to Auckland airport with my insanely qualified taxi driver, the “too many doctors driving cabs” cliché played out in the background. You’ve all been there I’m sure. My driver was an expert HTML5 developer who was at his wit’s end having applied for more than 50 roles and not landing a single interview.
As a former tech recruiter myself, I was stunned that he hadn’t got past step one as his English was excellent and he seemed really professional. Then the guilt kicked in. I knew full well that if he just changed the name on his CV from Khaled to Jack, hoping that he would score enough interviews to prove his worth. And – because I cannot stand guilt, I referred him to a friend who interviewed and subsequently hired him. True story.
[bctt tweet=”In this highly competitive environment, can you afford to let passive bias cloud your hiring judgement?” via=”no”]
The war for talent rages on and skilled people are in dire need across so many industry sectors. That need can only be filled  by better engagement with migrants new and old.
The irony is that while we are increasingly connected thanks to technological advancements, our political landscape is reacting with fear and not a sense of opportunity. And – of course – the policies that come from that fear decry the origin of our own country whose very foundation was built on the richness and diversity of multiple immigrant groups.
The recruitment industry has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. We’re empowered by technologies that allow us to access more Talent faster and with a global reach. It is time for us to use these tools to help us re-humanise our hiring processes and eliminate the sort of passive bias that run rough shod over the very Talent we need and have, that are right in front of us.
Love to hear your thoughts, please leave them in the comments below.
– Andy
Cover image: Shutterstock

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One Response to “Passive Racism in Modern Recruitment”

  1. Brendon Ladewig

    Good day Andy,
    Your article was very interesting to read. The practice of Talent Management is my focus for my Masters degree and I agree that it is in dire need of a changes. I agree that the attraction and selection of talent is a clear problem, but the concept of transferable skills is also a clear problem. Talent management academic literature gives evidence that most hiring professionals and leaders follow an exclusive view on talent, meaning than talent is rare. This causes talent to be overlooked, as skills can essentially be transferred across industries. I am a victim of this myself quite sadly, being a highly skilled South African with experience in a very niche industry of engineering, many recruiters fail to realize the skills can be transferred. This has resulted in me not finding a job in New Zealand for 1 and a half years. The most common response being received is the classic “you require the right to work and live in in New Zealand, sorry Brendon”.
    Leadership is also to blame, the literature shows that most leaders believe that Talent Management is beneficial to the business, but lack the understanding, skills and interest in its implementation. I am currently conducting a qualitative research study that has confirmed this.
    The academic research on Talent Management is found the above to be the most critical areas that require focus, but there are many other areas in this field that are major causes for concern.
    It would be interesting to hear your views on the above, I look forward to your response.
    Kind Regards,
    Brendon Ladewig


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