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In the run up to International Women’s Day this past Tuesday, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of news articles that were a sobering reminder that many people responsible for recruitment are still operating from a mindset that remains from last century.

The first was reported in industry news service, ShortList: SEEK data reveals widespread bias (28 February 2017): 

“What we found… [is] that Australians are biased, racist, and sexist. We found females were getting shortlisted less often than males,” says Seek Employment’s head of product Doug Blue.

The discoveries were made during SEEK’s work on a predictive algorithm, he told last week’s ATC Sourcing Social Talent conference in Sydney. Seek doesn’t capture gender in its applicant data, but is able to predict it by looking at job seekers’ first names, while surnames are similarly good predictors of race or ethnic background.

Given that this conclusion was reached after analysing the shortlisting behavior of over 200,000 of SEEK’s clients we can reasonably confident that this publicly released conclusion from an ASX-listed company is not a click bait headline fired out from a marketing intern.

Following this was a Lawyers Weekly article: Elite have ‘overwhelming’ advantage in legal recruitment, data shows published two days later.

New recruitment data released by three major firms suggests that the majority of law graduates hired through the pool of summer clerks come from a concentrated selection of privileged schools and postcodes.

Data collated from Allens, King & Wood Mallesons and Henry Davis York shows that more than half of the latest summer clerkship applications received by the firms come from candidates hailing from privileged schools and postcodes.

According to a new report Contextual Recruiting in Australia, 13 per cent of the 1,650 candidate pool came from the top 1 per cent of Australian schools.

A further 52 per cent of all applicants to programs with Allens, KWM and HDY were noted as having graduated from schools among the top 10 per cent in the country.

I suspect any legal recruiter in the country would be unsurprised by these results.

Given these two recent examples it’s sobering to consider the progress that’s been made, or not been made, in the 28 years that I’ve been involved in recruitment as a recruiter and trainer of recruiters.

It’s a theme that I have often returned to, having first raised it in my fourth blog, originally published on 1 November 2007 inspired by the just-released, first Eagles album of new material in 28 years, Long Road Out of Eden.

Coincidentally, last night I went to Rod Laver Arena to hear Eagles co-founder, songwriter and vocalist Don Henley in concert. I, and the other 8,000 or so fans, had a memorable night as Henley wonderfully recreated the songs live that I’ve become so familiar with over the past 40 years. It’s relevant to note that Henley turns 70 later this year and he still packs the audiences in whenever he tours.

It appears that age is no barrier to Henley’s continued popularity with fans of live music. At the other end of the music scale Lorde (then 16), Justin Bieber (then 15) and Taylor Swift (then 16) all experienced massive success with their first commercial releases before they were of legal voting age. It seems that consumers of recorded and live music disregard age when making judgements about where they will spend their entertainment dollar.

Yet ‘consumers’ of new employees appear to continue to regard age, and other many other non-competency factors such as school attended, ethnicity and gender as factors that drive performance of work tasks.

At a time when the conversation around skills shortages appears to be never-ending it’s critical that employers of all types and sizes focus on screening, interviewing and hiring applicants based on skills, competencies and motivation rather than age, gender, school attended and other non-competency criteria.

Let’s hope in my 20th year of blogging in 2027, I don’t have to return to this topic. At this point, I’m not optimistic.

Are Australians biased, racist and sexist?

I say, unfortunately, yes. Yes, they (mostly) are.

If we pay more attention to the competency-driven views of industry specialists like Sue Barrett we might have half a chance but, so far, change has been very, very slow in coming.

What’s your experience?

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Hi Ross,

While I have recruited across more disciplines over the last 28 years than most recruiters who have a typically have a tighter focus, there is still a strong bias to middle to senior technically, supply chain or operationally biases roles in my history. In supply chain roles, there has been a pleasing growth in the number of female applicants. But certainly in engineering roles, there is a dearth of applicants – whether they are sourced from advertisements or search.

So I always feel the statistics for gender bias are somewhat skewed as you can't hire women for roles they are not interested in or qualified for.


John Colebatch

Martin Darke

All too true, Ross. I forecast that you will be writing on this topic for some years to come.

Denis B.

Hear Hear.

Denis B.

100% Ross. You’ll be writing about this for a long time.
Just look at the ethnic representation of the bench in all of states, they continue to lack “true” representation.
As for recruiters…and with utmost respect…well… I could write a lengthy diatribe about who they really care about in the (recruitment) process and the manner they choose to communicate.
Even, in this field, there appears to be a massive imbalance ethnic balance in representation…they seem to be a lot from the (beautiful) Emerald Isle and the UK but what do they really know about the world of work and people in general.



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