As the official MK Dons ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ supporters for 2012 – 2015 (check out our Facebook page which displays photos of parents and children from all over MK who supported the parade at the last home game of the season: www.facebook.com/smartmovesmk), I noticed this article in The Guardian. No doubt you’ll be as shocked as we were…
Apparently, there is growing anecdotal evidence that some UK firms are filtering out job candidates with foreign-sounding names.
It’s alleged that a well-known airline discriminated on the grounds of race when it rejected Liberian-born Max Kpakio’s job application allegedly because of his African name. A British citizen, with a degree in international relations, Kpakio was shocked that he was denied an interview for a job in a Swansea call centre. Suspicious that it could be due to his foreign-sounding name, he reapplied with a typically British name, Craig Owen, and was invited several times to attend an interview. “There was an enormous difference in the way I was treated when I used a British name,” he said.
There is reason to believe Kpakio’s experience is not unprecedented. In December, the all-party parliamentary group on race and community published a study showing that women who “whitened” or “anglicised” their names on job applications had to send half as many job applications before being asked for interview. With competition for jobs higher than ever during the extended recession, stories from applicants and recruiters suggest that prejudice and discrimination are still commonplace.
The behaviour is not just unethical, it is also a breach of equality legislation. However, it is clearly difficult for applicants to discover and prove they have been discriminated against. A more practical answer could be the introduction of anonymous CVs. The Runnymede Trust, which acts as a secretariat for the all-party parliamentary group, is calling on the government to publish an action plan to encourage blank-name application forms, and to lead by example by piloting their use in at least one of its departments.
Steps to introduce anonymous CVs have received mixed successes abroad. A plan for them to be made compulsory at all large French companies was abandoned after the Pôle Emploi – the French government agency that helps the unemployed find jobs – deemed them to be counter-productive. Research found that people of foreign origin and those who lived in underprivileged areas were less likely to be invited to an interview if their CV was anonymous, possibly because allowances could not be made for poor qualifications or faults due to disadvantaged backgrounds. Positive discrimination was impossible to implement. However, the City of Helsinki has recently begun a pilot scheme using anonymous CVs when recruiting staff. Officials from other Finnish cities have said they may follow Helsinki’s example. A German study last year found that anonymous applications helped level the playing field for job applicants.
The British government has taken some steps to tackle name-bias. In April 2012, deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, introduced the social mobility business compact, an initiative designed to make the process of getting a job fairer. Under the compact, some of the UK’s biggest companies including Tesco, BP and Barclays have agreed to “recruit openly and fairly ensuring non-discrimination, including increased use of name-blank and school-blank applications”.
A cabinet office press officer said: “The business compact asks businesses and other organisations to open their doors to people from all walks of life, regardless of their background.
“Its aim is to encourage behavioural change in business to open their opportunities to everyone regardless of, for example, where they are born, the school they go to and the jobs their parents do. This is because skills and talents shouldn’t be wasted just because someone’s personal circumstances mean they can’t get a foot on the ladder.”
However Runnymede Trust director Rob Berkeley said that as of December 2012, only 143 companies had signed up to the scheme “which is not a ringing endorsement or success for the government”. He added: “There is still a long way to go in achieving diversity across a number of large organisations in Britain.”