Posted on December 22, 2023

Wanting to Hire ‘Fewer White Men’ for a Job Is Not Discrimination

Blathnaid Corless, The Telegraph, December 19, 2023

Wanting to hire “fewer white men” for a job is not discrimination, a tribunal has ruled.

Chris Palmer was turned down from an £80,000 post at a financial services company, who instead opted to hire a woman, after he was told at his job interview the company wanted to hire fewer white men.

At an employment tribunal, the candidate said his failure to get the position as head of HR was based on his ethnicity and gender following the remark from Michael Jones, the managing director.

However the panel dismissed his claims – ruling it was not “indicative of an intention to discriminate” when an employer mentioned its aim to improve diversity in its workforce.

Tamara Lewis, the judge presiding over the tribunal, said that although an organisation may aspire to be “less dominated by white men”, it does not mean that there is an “intention to achieve that objective by discriminating in recruitment against white men and in favour of women or minority ethnic candidates”.

The hearing in central London heard that Mr Palmer was invited to a screening interview in July 2021 at AIMS Markets, where he was asked to talk through his CV and experience.

The conversation was conducted on the phone while the candidate was on holiday, and several of his friends listened to the call.

Mr Jones told Mr Palmer that the company had an objective of “building and creating diversity” and “mentioned the ethnicity and sex of various existing employees”, the tribunal heard.

According to Mr Palmer and his friends, Mr Jones referred to the company’s “wish, desire or intention” (they disagreed on the verb) to hire “fewer white men”.

Led by Mr Jones, his prospective employers thought Mr Palmer was a “serious candidate” who should progress to the first interview, despite having a “couple of reservations” about him.

The tribunal heard there were two other candidates at this stage – both women – who were then also rejected.

‘Gender and ethnicity would never be a factor in decision making’

Two weeks later, Mr Jones told Mr Palmer to tell him they “did not wish to proceed any further with him”.

In Nov 2021, Mr Palmer wrote to Mr Jones alleging sex discrimination.

In response, Andrew Clover, the CEO, said the “fewer white men” comment had been “misconstrued”.

”[Mr Jones] was referring to us being a diverse employer and pointing out that we don’t just hire one type of person, for example just white men, not to say we don’t want to hire white men”, he wrote.

He insisted the gender or ethnicity of a candidate would “never” be a factor in their decision making.

Mr Clover also pointed out that had they intended not to employ him, Mr Palmer wouldn’t have been interviewed twice.

The panel heard a woman accepted the job offer in September 2021.

Regarding the “fewer white men” comment – which Mr Jones denied making – the judge said: “Clearly something was said about this.

“There was a general discussion about diversity in recruitment, given that the position was head of HR.

“We find that Mr Jones indicated the company hoped to achieve a diverse workforce that did not exclusively comprise, for example, white men.

“Having listened to Mr Jones as a witness, we suspect he did not express this very well.”

‘Not odd’ that diversity was raised interview for head of HR

Throwing out his claim of sex discrimination, she continued: “We do not find it concerning or odd that an employer should discuss with a candidate for a post as head of HR the issue of diversity in its workforce.

“Nor do we find it in itself indicative of an intention to discriminate that an employer should aspire to increase diversity in its workforce where there is underrepresentation.

“We would expect candidates for a head of HR post to understand these principles and distinctions.”