EngagementDiversity & InclusionRevealed: What discrimination for job seekers really looks like

Revealed: What discrimination for job seekers really looks like

With the issue of systematic inequality now in the spotlight more than ever before, the time could be now for business and hr leaders to act on the discrimination and bias that exists within the talent space. Gareth Jones, CEO, Headstart explores this topic further.

As 2020 comes to an end, the events of this year have brought systemic discrimination into sharp focus for people around the world. We now have a new, crucial opportunity to examine and end discrimination in the world of work, with a particular emphasis on the talent space.

Discrimination and bias both have great influence on the society we live in, both in the workplace and outside of it. And while these issues have been on the corporate agenda for decades, we’ve still seen relatively little progress. 

The fact remains that diversity requires much more than just good intentions. If tangible, meaningful change is to be instigated, there must be more corporate dialogue surrounding the huge amount of discrimination faced by job seekers, as well as how this discrimination negatively impacts job seekers, current employees, and employers alike. 

Taking a closer look at the vast discrimination job seekers face

In September earlier this year, we surveyed 800 job seekers and employers in the United States. We found that 54% of job seekers felt they were frequently discriminated against when looking for new roles. This number rises to 66% among black respondents, and 83% for those who identify as gender-diverse. Other respondents reported being discriminated against due to age, skillset, neurological conditions, mental health conditions, and sexual orientation.

It’s evidence for what we all know to be true: that bias and discrimination exist throughout the hiring process, all the way from job seeking to salary offers. 

Employers simply must do more to actively seek out minority groups and create inclusive jobs and teams. This can help even the playing field and support the groups of people who have historically been denied these opportunities. 

We also found that hiring managers are aware of this need for their organisations to address these measures. And yet, many haven’t taken any steps to improve the situation. In fact, 50% of hiring managers admit that they think bias and discrimination is an issue in their organization, but 42% haven’t completed any unconscious bias or discrimination training.

What’s more, unconscious bias has been found to directly influence hiring decisions (either favorably or unfavorably). For example, one report found that candidates with “white-sounding names” are 50% more likely to get called back for an interview than those with “black-sounding names”. Another revealed that job seekers from minority ethnic groups are forced to send 60% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than those of white British origin.

This astounding lack of awareness around unconscious biases may also be why 34% of job seekers felt some discrimination during the recruiting process for jobs they eventually accepted. This means some employees start new jobs feeling undervalued before they even clock in for the first time, ultimately impacting their wellbeing as well as their overall performance. 

The impact of discrimination is both damaging and destructive 

People who experience discrimination are susceptible to considerably low self-esteem, and this is why it has the very real potential to harm job seekers and employees alike. 

On a larger scale, discrimination creates a barrier to opportunities and progress for vast groups of people. Half of the job seekers we surveyed felt that people from poor backgrounds have less opportunity to follow a technical career path such as consulting or financial services. 

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Crucially, this lack of opportunity doesn’t correlate with intelligence, skill level, or capacity for hard work. And yet, the perceived shortcomings of certain backgrounds means companies inadvertently miss out on a vast section of the potential hiring pool, whether they are conscious of their biases or not. 

If employees can’t see themselves represented at work, it can be demoralizing. But on the other side of the coin, employees who feel that they can “bring their whole selves to work” are 42% less likely to look for a new job in the next year.

Discrimination in the recruiting process can affect the bottom line too. Fifty-six per cent of job seekers said they are unlikely to purchase goods or services from companies that treated them poorly during the hiring process, whilst 53% of job seekers will go on to tell more than two people about their negative experience.

Over time, this damages both reputation and brand integrity, whether it’s an employer or consumer brand. Plus, that experience will undoubtedly have left those individuals feeling insecure about their abilities, hugely frustrated with their opportunities, and deterred from finding work. 

The role of recruiting, hiring, and nurturing talent is vital to every organization. But without understanding and addressing the role of discrimination in these processes, we cannot progress toward diversity and equality.

To arm us with the data and understanding we need to inform real change, we conducted a thorough survey on diversity and inclusion in the workplace across the USA. You can download the full ebook here to learn more.

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