When I first started applying for a legal training contract I was advised that my surname, Patel (a common Hindu name), may be a hindrance to me getting an interview and that perhaps I should consider changing it. Sad to say, I didn’t just dismiss this comment straightaway but seriously wondered if it would make a difference. I decided in the end not to do anything and luckily I didn’t have to. I do wonder however whether there was anything to this suggestion and whether people with more English sounding surnames than mine but with my qualifications and experience were getting more interviews than me. A report published by the Commons women and equalities committee last month suggests that perhaps they were. It referred to name-blind research carried out by the National Centre for Social Research for the Department for Work and Pensions in which it was found that an applicant who appeared to be white had to send nine applications before receiving a positive response compared to an application by an ethnic minority candidate (with a non-English sounding name) who had to send 16 applications before they were successful.
The committee's report focused specifically on Muslim women and their employment opportunities in the UK. It reported that Muslims are experiencing the highest levels of unemployment among all religious and ethnic groups, 12.8% in 2015 compared with 5.4% of the general population and that Muslim women were further disadvantaged both because of pressure they faced within their own communities and also discrimination in the work place. These figures are perhaps not entirely unsurprising given the current climate in the UK and the rise of Islamophobia in the UK and the rest of Europe and clearly much needs to be done to stop this from rising further.
The introduction of name-blind recruiting appears to be a step in the right direction. At the end of last year the government announced that the Civil Service would introduce name-blind recruitment for all roles below Senior Civil Service level. Other top recruiters have also joined in, including HSBC and Deloitte. Of course, this will only go so far as once a candidate is invited for an interview they will come face to face with their prospective employer and may still end up facing discrimination at the interview stage. Nevertheless, name-blind recruiting will give people who may have been denied the opportunity before the chance to showcase their talent. The more this is done the more employers will realise that those from different backgrounds have much to offer and could actually enhance and benefit their company. Indeed, it seems to me that having a diverse cultural workforce can only be a good thing as employers will be rewarded with a wealth of knowledge they may not otherwise have had with a homogenous workforce. It is also encouraging to see that the government is looking to explore these issues further with the announcement by Theresa May over the weekend of a government audit to tackle racial disparities in the public sector including in the workplace. The audit will examine how race can affect how someone is dealt with in different areas of life including progression to graduate jobs and will hopefully be a further step towards eliminating prejudice both in the workplace and beyond. However ultimately better data is just a starting point; it is the taking of effective action to tackle discrimination and inequality based on that data that matters.