Check Your Bias: White Privilege In The Hiring Process

Forever in the news for something, the NHS was recently called into question over a matter that pricked our ears: the fact that a top hospital trust chief executive has said she will no longer sit on any interview board panel that doesn’t include black and minority ethnic (BAME) representation.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, chief executive of Birmingham Women’s & Children’s NHS Trust, thinks the NHS need to do more to tackle “white privilege” and increase BAME representation among senior managers and directors. Currently, only 5% of very senior managers are non-white. That’s out of a total of 1.2 million staff across NHS England.

The Workforce Race Equality Scheme data tells us that white people are more likely to be appointed at interview than black people, and in my own organisation they are twice as likely to be appointed. I do not believe that this is because white people are twice as good as black people, there is something else going on. I think there is white privilege, I think there are people having unconscious bias.” - Sarah-Jane Marsh

Alas, the issues of bias (unconscious or otherwise) and white privilege stretch far beyond the NHS’ hiring practices. Colour bias infiltrates a significant proportion of businesses worldwide. Oftentimes it occurs before candidates even reach interview stage.

In 2017, researchers at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto found that people with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names were 28% less likely to be invited to an interview than candidates with English-sounding names, even when their qualifications were the same. The findings were based on 13,000 fake CVs that were sent to over 3,000 job postings.

Does this stand true in the European market? Similar studies conducted in France and the UK show that this problem is by no means limited to Canada alone.

In 2016, the French government commissioned a study that found 30% of businesses preferred candidates with French-sounding names compared to candidates with North African names. The backgrounds, experience and qualifications included in the applications were the same between control groups.

Here in the UK, an all-parliamentary group study from 2012 found that women who “whitened” their names or made them sound more British had to send only half as many applications before being invited to interview compared to those who sounded black and minority ethnic. At interview stage, some Muslim women were removing their hijab to increase their chance of getting work.

It’s undeniably obvious that BAME groups will face more opposition during selection and interview stage than their white counterparts. And it’s likely to be damaging businesses in a way they wouldn’t expect - their pockets. A 2018 McKinsey report highlights that ethnically diverse companies are 33% more likely to financially outperform their national industry medians. At the board of directors level, more ethnically diverse companies are 43% more likely to see better-than-average profits. Organisations who don’t acknowledge white bias in the hiring process are not only limiting the potential of individual candidates, they’re damaging their own income.