I noticed an interesting article on the BBC News webpage recently concerning the findings from an MP’s report which stated that women from ethnic minority backgrounds faced discrimination “at every stage of the recruitment process”.

At the application stage, those with typically “non-white” names faced immediate difficulty. The lady interviewed by the BBC had been applying for jobs for over four months and had received no responses. Her careers advisor had suggested that she use her middle name, Elizabeth, and she subsequently received a number of calls from prospective employers.  This is not news – there have been a number of cases, some against law firms, where CVs identical in all but the person’s name have elicited different responses from the same employer, leaving it with the usually insurmountable burden of trying to explain that less favourable treatment of the real “non-white” candidate compared to the “white” but fictitious one with the same CV.

Those who made it as far as interview reported that the questions they were asked were often tied to assumptions based on their religion or ethnicity. For example, questions to Pakistani and Bangladeshi women often probed their intentions in relation to marriage and children as it was seemingly assumed that these events may result in their wishing to stop working with a short space of time.

At the interview stage, questions should not be asked about any of the protected characteristics, i.e. age, being or becoming a transsexual person, being married or in a civil partnership, being pregnant or having a child, disability, race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin), religion (belief or lack of religion/belief), sex and sexual orientation. Therefore, in the example above, employers should clearly not have been asking about the applicant’s intentions in relation to getting married or having children.  Even if the employer were able to show it asked everyone the same question, regardless of gender or ethnicity, it would still be prohibited from relying on the answer.  Much more likely is that it will not have asked everyone the same question, in which case a finding of discrimination, whether conscious or not, is almost a given.

The recruitment process can therefore be a minefield so, if in doubt, please ask for advice.