The prime minister said he will end discrimination in his speech to the Conservative party conference last week. He illustrated his ambitious plan with a story about race discrimination in recruitment:
Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names?
This is a true story.
One young black girl had to change her name to Elizabeth before she got any calls to interviews.
That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful.
David Cameron’s speech received a warm welcome from party activists, and few would disagree with his objective. Commentators like Joseph Harker and Sunder Katwala have queried why the prime minster has apparently discovered the cause of racial equality so late in his time in office, and drawn unfavourable comparisons between his recent enthusiasm for racial equality and his record in government. The speech may have reminded employment and HR professionals of the cases of Max Kpakio, who unsuccessfully alleged race discrimination after being rejected for a job at a call centre until he re-applied with the false name of “Craig Owen”, or Suresh Deman, the lecturer who used similar tactics to bring more than 40 largely unsuccessful employment tribunal claims against universities before being banned from further claims.
With race discrimination already unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, it’s difficult to predict how Mr Cameron will seek to achieve his ambitious aim. His speech offered no clues, but perhaps the obvious response to the anecdote above is legislation requiring companies above a certain size to introduce a names-blind recruitment process analogous to that adopted by some law firms of removing candidates’ educational histories from their CVs. Several groups and politicians have previously called for such a policy. However, that would be a surprisingly interventionist move from this Conservative government, and is unlikely to be kindly received by trade groups. The softer option of mandating Government departments to adopt “blank names” application forms may prove more palatable. Alternatively, this government has shown enthusiasm for greater reporting requirements in the past – on the gender pay gap for example – so a more likely result might be some sort of obligation for companies to report on the protected characteristics of applicants, interviewees, successful candidates and their workforces. We will have to wait and see.