Prime minister David Cameron has pledged to remove ‘unconscious bias’ against Asian and black graduates by removing names from graduate job applications.
He said he was committed to “making opportunity more equal in our country” as he announced an initiative under which organisations have pledged to recruit graduates on a “name blind” basis.
Government bodies and private sector firms, which employ 1.8 million people in Britain, on Monday (26) signed up to the pledge to reduce potential discrimination.
In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye at Downing Street, Cameron said: “We won’t have genuine opportunity in Britain unless we get rid of discrimination, unless we have equal treatment in Britain.
“And I wanted to demonstrate that it wasn’t just words, that action will follow these words. The first step being name blind applications – it is significant, it will make a difference because too many people are falling at the first hurdle.
“So let’s put that in place and you see this big commitment today from lots of employers, including govern-ment, including universities.”
Among the organisations that will adopt the practice when hiring graduates are the Civil Service, Teach First, HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money, KPMG, BBC, NHS, Learn Direct and local government.
At a roundtable at Downing Street on Monday, the prime minister led a discussion with representatives of government and private companies.
They included David Barnes, the managing director of Deloitte; head of human resources at HSBC, Tanuj Kapilashrami; John Manzoni, the CEO of the civil service; the CEO of NHS England, Simon Stevens; Marianne Fallon, partner and head of corporate affairs at KPMG; and BBC’s director of strategy and digital, James Purnell.
Cameron told Eastern Eye: “The conversation among big businesses today was about having got more people from BAME backgrounds into an organisation, how do they make sure they shoot to the very top?
“There are lots of things to be done there – mentoring, targets, proper measures, setting a high ambition, making sure people can network and having role models.
“A whole series of very good measures were put forward. And whether it’s the government, army, universities, we all need to take up these suggestions.”
The prime minister acknowledged that “obviously it is not the only thing that is required” but stressed that organisations should set ambitions to make sure they have greater diversity.
“Then you need to measure your progress – if you don’t measure things, they don’t get done. If you don’t throw open the doors and say come in, then it’s not enough. You need to go out and grab people and encourage them to come in.
“Unless you do all those things, you won’t succeed.”
Manzoni said: “I’m delighted to expand the civil service’s use of name-blind applications – not just for all graduate and apprenticeship level roles, but for many other external applications too.
“It’s vital that the civil service takes a lead on this, and I’m confident that this important step will help us build an organisation even more talented, diverse and effective than it is today.”
A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that although minority ethnic representation in the civil service increased from four per cent in 1988 to 10 per cent in 2014, it was still two percentage points below the overall percentage of the working population who are minority ethnic.
The report also noted that the Cabinet Office found some people are leaving the civil service because they find the culture “exclusive”.
Last month, cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood appointed four advisers to help the civil service become more representative of modern Britain.
Stephen Frost, Karen Blackett OBE, Lord Holmes of Richmond and Helena Morrissey will advise ministers and civil service leaders to help them increase numbers in the workforce from under-represented groups.
In his speech last month to the Conservative party conference, Cameron cited research showing that people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get job call-backs than people with ethnic-sounding names.
He told Eastern Eye: “All organisations should think of setting targets and set ambitions and try to meet them.
“Not every company will do it in the same way, but setting an ambition is a good way of achieving this.
“What we should be talking of here is positive action to stop discrimination, like I did with the Conservative party. I want to see more women candidates, more minority candidates.”
David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte, said: “The introduction of name-blind recruitment processes, and school and university-blind interviews, will help prevent unconscious bias and ensure that job offers are made on the basis of potential – not ethnicity, gender or past personal circumstance.
“At Deloitte, we want to show that everyone can thrive, develop and succeed in our firm based on their talent, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any other dimension that can be used to differentiate people from one another.”
James Darley, executive director, Graduate Recruitment, Teach First added: “Today’s pledge is a great day for graduates and employers across the country. I applaud the many leading organisations’ and the government’s efforts to ensure ‘name blind’ recruitment – something that Teach First has championed in its recruitment of new teachers for over five years.”