Race: a job seeker's path blocked at interviews

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A. You raise a very serious problem - what to do, if you have strong suspicions of racial discrimination but no solid proof. The law is very clear that discrimination on the grounds of race is illegal - and you could take any of the employers you suspect of having discriminated against you to an employment tribunal.

Even if you were successful that wouldn't get you a job, which is, we guess, what you really want. Furthermore, the kind of discrimination you are alleging, though common, is not easy to prove at tribunal.

So what should you do? To answer the CV question, none of our experts believe you should put your ethnic origin on your CV. Makbool Javaid from law firm DLA Piper, says, "It is always easier for employers to come up with reasons why they didn't interview someone, than why they rejected them after interview. 'We had so many strong applications we couldn't interview everyone,' is an obvious get-out clause."

It is worth informing yourself of the diversity debate generally in the City of London and reading up on the diversity policies of the major employers (they all have them outlined on their websites). This will give you an idea of best practice and who is, at least in theory, taking the most proactive approach to stamping out discrimination.

Armed with this information, you could ask a relevant question about diversity at the end of any job interview. You could even ask, 'If I were successful, would I be the first/only black person in your department?' The answer to your queries could be quite instructive - not only the content of what they say, but how comfortable they are with such questions in the first place.

What's more, if you feel you have been discriminated against by an employer with a stated diversity policy, you can use their own policy as the grounds for a complaint to senior management. Javaid, who has extensive experience in discrimination cases, advocates an even more upfront approach. He suggests calling the interviewer/HR department once you have secured an interview, telling them you are black, saying that you believe this shouldn't be a problem and asking them about their diversity policies.

That lets the employer know that you are aware of your rights. Should the offer of an interview be withdrawn, you would then have a strong case - and should let senior management know that you will take them to tribunal unless the interview is reinstated.

If you attend an interview and you are not offered a job for what you believe to be racial grounds, you should still pressurise senior management about their recruitment practices, says Javaid, and/or threaten to go to the press and/or bring a claim if you are not offered a position.

'We appreciate that this is a very contentious position to adopt but in the face of your experience' he argues, 'you may have no option but to fight for your rights if you want to work in this sector.'

Organisations that might be able to offer helpful advice are the Commission for Racial Equality, https://www.cre.gov.uk; and ACDiversity (previously known as the African and Caribbean Finance Forum), https://www.acff.org.

Good luck and do please let us know how you get on as this is one of the issues we are very keen on at eFinancialCareers.com.

A reader advises...

I was a Head for Research for several years, and was never faced with a black candidate. Had I been so, it would not have been an issue - the candidate would have been assessed purely on their perceived merit. I suspect that this is what is happening to the poser of this question.

To respond to the points he or she raises:

1: 'Despite very good interviews'. The only person who can judge this is the interviewer. The candidate could indeed have performed well, but others might have done better, their CV's might fit the position better or simply the interviewer might have been trying to be pleasant (it does happen!), making the candidate feel that he or she had done better than was actually the case.

2: '...and have come to realize that most employers weren't expecting a black person with my profile'. Why, on what evidence? This is simply an assumption. Even if this were true, which frankly I doubt, it doesn't mean that the candidate was rejected on the grounds of skin colour.

3: 'I have been fobbed off with implausible explanations of my failure'. No candidate ever called me for an 'explanation of their failure'. Had they done so, I would have been embarrassed and, while trying to be honest, would have tried to be as positive as possible. I dare say that this might have come over as 'implausible'.

4: 'Should I put my ethnic origin on my CV'. Only if it's relevant to the job.

I would advise the person who asked the question as follows:

1. Investment banking is a brutally competitive business. Even in good times, there are many applicants for any job, and times are not good at present. Many people who eventually succeed face dozens of rejections before they find a job.

2. Forget your skin colour. Even unconsciously, believing it to be a factor could cause you to present as 'chippy' in an interview. Employers will instinctively reject such candidates.

3. If you are rejected, send a letter to the bank concerned thanking them for their interest in you and offering yourself for any future positions that arise. This will be kept on file, and may well lead to a job in future. This does happen.

4. Remember that it is a considerable risk for an employer to hire a black person because of the risk of a racial discrimination suit if they ever have to be made redundant, a fate that awaits almost everybody in the business. In this sense, the panoply of employment protection laws have, sadly, made it harder for black people (and women, for that matter) to get jobs, not easier. Because of this, a person who seems 'race aware' will, quite rationally, be rejected, albeit very politely.

5. Persist. If you can offer the industry something, it will take you up.

Regards,

W.V.

Next week's question: My department is being abolished, following a takeover. The timeframe for redundancy was Q4 2005. I then received a notice of redundancy providing an end date in Q2. Since then, I have been advised that this letter was sent in error and is being rescinded. What rights do I have to make the company comply with the first letter of notice, regardless of the error?

What would you advise? Send your answer to: expertadmin@efinancialcareers.com.

Look out for the Experts' answer to this dilemma and readers' comments on Ask the Expert next week. If you would like to submit a question to our panel of experts,

ASK THE EXPERT.

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