New CSI research reveals high levels of job discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in Britain

New research by CSI and colleagues at the GEMM project has revealed shocking levels of discrimination against job applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds. We made fictitious applications to nearly 3,200 real jobs, randomly varying applicants’ minority background, but holding their skills, qualifications and work experience constant. On average, nearly one in four applicants from the majority group (24%) received a callback from employers. The job search effort was less successful for ethnic minorities who, despite having identical CVs and cover letters, needed to send 60% more applications in order to receive as many callbacks as the majority group.

These findings cannot be explained by concerns about poor English language fluency or imperfect recognition of foreign qualifications as all minority applicants were either British-born or had arrived in Britain by the age of six, and had obtained all their education and training in Britain.

Discrimination varied by applicants’ country of origin. While applicants from Western Europe and the US were treated just as well as the majority group, applicants from more visible and culturally distant minorities – such as Black Africans and applicants from MENA countries – were penalised heavily. Higher education does not seem to be a leveller among these groups. For example, Nigerians with a university degree and relevant work experience still had to send twice as many applications as the majority group to be considered for software engineering and marketing assistant jobs.

Likewise, adding information did not help to reduce discrimination. Applicants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Africa or the MENA countries who stressed their competence and past achievements in the job application still received significantly lower callbacks from employers than white British applicants who did not include information about performance in their CV.

The research also identified significant religious discrimination. Employers were reluctant to invite any applicant originating from Muslim-majority countries, whether or not they disclosed their religion in the job application. This finding echoes the strong anti-Muslim attitudes recorded in recent surveys.

These results are part of a broader project comparing Britain against Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Spain. Although there exist relatively strong laws prohibiting discrimination on ethnic, racial and religious grounds in Britain, the levels of discrimination are no lower than the other countries we studied.

Worryingly, discrimination is an enduring phenomenon. Comparing these results with those from previous field experiments conducted in Britain, we found no sign of progress for Caribbeans or for South Asians over the past 50 years.


The report can be downloaded here.

More information on the GEMM 2020 project can be found at here.

The Guardian’s report on the research can be viewed here.

A blog post about the research can be viewed here.