Despite recruitment agencies proving a vital tool in helping scout talent for organisations, many candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds do not believe they are treated fairly by these agencies.

New research by Business in the Community (BITC) reveals the disparity between the experiences of white and ethnic minority candidates when utilising a recruitment agency to secure employment.

Half of white candidates (50 per cent) believe that they are treated fairly by recruitment agencies compared to just three in 10 job-seekers (30 per cent) from a Black, Asian, Mixed Race and ethnically diverse background.

Breaking this down further, Black people from Caribbean (71 per cent) and African (67 per cent) backgrounds were found to be significantly more likely to use a recruitment agency but less likely to believe that they were being treated fairly (34 per cent), with this number falling from 38 per cent in 2018.

As such, the research calls for the recruitment industry, employers and the Government to tackle this issue head on and to shift marketplace perceptions.

Particularly, the report singled out the need to face unemployment disparities which result in ethnically diverse graduates being unemployed for longer.

Other areas of focus for businesses and the recruitment agency to act upon included:

  • Critically examining entry requirements into their business, focusing on potential achievement and not which university or school the individual went to.
  • Drafting job specifications in plain English and providing an accurate reflection of essential and desirable skills to attract a wider set of individuals.
  • Larger employers ensuring that the selection and interview process is undertaken by more than one person and should ideally include individuals from different backgrounds to help eliminate bias.
  • Seeking out opportunities to provide work experience to a more diverse group of individuals, looking beyond their standard social demographic. 

Sandra Kerr CBE, Race Equality Director at Business in the Community, said:

The results from today’s survey show that recruitment agencies need to re-evaluate how they work with Black, Asian, Mixed Race and ethnically diverse candidates.

There is a reason why the unacceptable level of distrust between some job seekers and recruiters has remained a problem and the recruitment industry must work together to ensure that is an open and transparent selection process when sifting through applications.

Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), talked of the changes that had been made in response to the research:

Today’s data is a concern, and reflects why we have made inclusion a key theme for the REC.

This has included amending the guidance to the REC Code of Conduct for all our members, so that candidates know that when they choose an REC member there is an expectation of fair treatment, backed by a formal complaints process.


*This research has been outlined in the BITC’s Race at Work 2021 report which surveyed 24,600 people in the UK.