Applicant X – avoiding bias and discrimination in recruitment

Published on: 22/09/2016


Most UK employers are well aware that the law protects job applicants from unlawful discrimination - for example because of their sex, race or age. The majority of businesses have no intention of treating anyone unfairly and yet we continue to see stark imbalances within workforces. Why is this?

Attention has shifted in recent years from cases of outright prejudice, or what employment lawyers would call ‘direct discrimination’, to more subtle forms of bias that can influence a recruiter’s decision-making.

It’s now widely recognised that businesses and educational establishments have a part to play in reducing inequality by tackling forms of conscious and unconscious bias. 

Last year professional services firm Deloitte announced they were looking to target the issue of social mobility by removing the name of an applicant’s school and university before interview. The aim - to help ensure that job offers are made on the basis of present potential, not past personal circumstance.

Over the next year a much wider-ranging trial will take place in universities, which should give a much better indication of the extent to which unconscious bias influences recruitment. With the support of the government, Exeter, Huddersfield, Liverpool and Winchester universities have volunteered to carry out “name-blind” admissions designed to counteract assumptions that may be made about a candidate’s race, gender or religion based on their name.

The outcome of the trial will be of interest to anyone involved in recruitment and selection, and it could even lead to legislative changes. In the meantime, employers may want to ‘equality test’ their own recruitment practices and procedures by withholding information that could lead to bias and discrimination. We regularly provide advice and training to business clients on these issues and we know from experience that it’s worth putting the work up front to avoid potentially damaging and costly discrimination claims from job applicants.


This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking professional and legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.