Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Equal opportunities and recruitment agencies

Earlier in the summer Eversheds published a report or made a press statement to say that recruitment agents ought to be forced to promote diversity and equal opportunities and that the blame for failing to do so in law firms lay firmly at the doors of recruitment consultants. (If I have misrepresented Eversheds in any way with this, please accept my apologies and Eversheds, feel free to write to me).

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 cv@ten-percent.co.uk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that there are issues of grave concern here. As a lawyer with 10+ yrs post qualification experience, I became seriously suspicious when recently a recruitment agency failed to even forward my CV onto a prospective employer - stating that due to the high number of applications received, they had to adhere 'even more closely to the employer's requirements'. Now, I am not one of those disillusioned sorts who thinks I deserve every job without question but I had carefully ensured that I fulfilled every inch of the advertised criteria before applying as I am in very steady/secure/well paid employment at present (£60,000 pa) and am extremely choosey about where I move onto - especially in these financially challenged times.

Thus, I wonder what 'other criteria' (other than that which was advertised) was really being adhered to here? I am thinking about taking this one all the way -hence arriving on this blog.

I do not necessarily have a foreign sounding name - my concern is general in nature i.e. why are major organisations/companies in the UK risking a breach of their own equal opportunity policies by placing jobs through recruitment agencies, who, for any reason, may not be representing them properly?

Companies/organisations need to be made aware of this - and if they are already aware and complicit - then they need to brought to task about it - openly.