I agree partly with Eversheds in this matter. There are very few recruitment agencies, including ourselves who measure equal opportunities and diversity when candidates register with agents on their websites or presumably by sending a CV by post.
In fact, the call from Eversheds has made me think twice about it and Ten Percent will shortly be adding a selection of equal opportunities questions at the bottom of every registration form so that we are able to quantify sex, ethnic origin and possibly age as well.
I have considered it before, but decided against it on the basis that some candidates may feel that the reasons we are asking the questions is to positively discriminate against them, particularly on the age or sex issue. Whilst this is usually obvious what somebody’s age is and also what sex they are, not so obvious as to what their ethnic origin is.
I was asked a few months ago by a candidate with an African name whether I thought firms were directly discriminating against her on the basis of this. She particularly asked about an incident where her CV had been rejected, yet the firm had wanted to interview another candidate. I did explain that the other person’s surname was similarly ‘foreign’ in sound and that that person was not white. However, a suspicion remains in the legal profession amongst ethnic minority background candidates that there is discrimination going on and that it is spread across the board. So whilst there are things that recruitment consultants can do, and I do intend to act upon the statement or press release by Eversheds to ensure that we know the make up of our candidate database, it is also incumbent on the firms themselves to ensure that no direct or indirect discrimination takes place.
It wasn’t that long ago that most firms would automatically reject anybody over a certain age for particular jobs, although I do have to say that in my experience, Eversheds have been quite proactive on age for a long, long time. I recall a selection day that I attended many years ago where half the potential candidates were easily over 35.
There are firms in the UK who seem to automatically reject any CV that has an African or Asian sounding name on it, and although there is no evidence that any racism is involved, there is the distinct possibility that this is the case.
It would be interesting for someone to do a study of some law firms and to make an application with an African sounding name, an Asian sounding name and a traditionally British sounding name such as Smith or Jones. I am pretty sure that there would be an element of discrimination evident somewhere at some firm if the comparison were made but it does not just follow that discrimination can be direct or indirect on the race side, as I have come across instances where we have sent CVs through for female solicitors between the ages of 25 and 35 and had a telephone call from the senior partner of that particular firm asking us whether we thought that that candidate would be having a family shortly and whether they were married. Whilst these questions could be perfectly harmless, it is clear what intention the senior partner has and what that particular law firm are trying to avoid – namely maternity leave and the need to appoint a locum for six to nine months or find a replacement if the candidate doesn’t come back. Whilst I can understand an employer having concerns like this, particularly when a small firm is involved, it is not acceptable. They should really be ashamed of themselves. It’s not equal opportunity or fair and appropriate behaviour for a law firm.
In summary, I agree partly with the Eversheds statement that agencies and consultants should be able to audit their candidate database to show that they are promoting diversity and equal opportunities, but at the end of the day it is the law firms themselves who recruit and if an agent sends through four candidates with three of them having overseas sounding names and the law firm only wish to interview the candidate without an overseas sounding name, there is little the recruitment consultancy can do as it is up to the law firm who decide whether they are discriminating against the three overseas sounding named solicitors.
Jonathan Fagan in Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk). He regularly commentates and writes on the legal profession and the legal recruitment and job market in the UK and overseas. You can contact Ten Percent at email@example.com.