Recruit on ability, not colour or accent

True equality brings underused talent to the fore, says Ibukun Adebayo


At IT directors' events I am usually the only black face, which is no credit to me as there are many bright black IT professionals out there being denied the chance of reaching the top.

But many people are scared to talk about racism. Alas, just like ageism, sexism and homophobia, it exists, and it is equally offensive to those at the receiving end.

I was born and brought up in Balham, and given a first English name, and about nine Nigerian names including Ibukun.

As an adult, I adopted Ibukun as my first name because it has a meaning - blessing - which I wanted to live up to. Using "Ibukun", rather than "Caroline", has been an eye-opener.

For example, a recruiter asked if he could shorten Ibukun as sending my "awkward name" among all the Johns and Davids "would not exactly increase my prospects of being invited to an interview".

Another said he was "pleasantly surprised with my command of English, considering my name". I guess many recruiters will be shaking their heads in denial, but until we acknowledge the problem exists, we cannot solve it.

The UK is home to many "foreigners" who can contribute to the economy, and recognition should be given to their qualifications and skills.

It is important for IT professionals to have good communication skills, but to be customer-focused does not require the Queen's English. How come the British are able to go and work in foreign countries such as Spain, Italy, and even Nigeria, and communicate effectively in those countries without having the "right accent" or intonation?

I refuse to use agencies, instead advertising directly and speaking on the phone to potential promising candidates. This way I find out whether they are suitable for interview based on their skills, experience, and attitude, rather than their name or accent.

So what needs to change to create a new attitude to equality in recruitment?

First, all recruiters should attend equal opportunities training as this would address racism, sexism, ageism, and every other "ism" that is preventing recruiting companies from accessing a larger pool of quality candidates.

Second, recruiting companies should meet the agency dealing with the vacancy to ensure they have a full understanding of the core competencies of the role. Make sure they share the same ethos and values as your organisation regarding equal opportunities and providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates.

As a recruiting company, remember that the agency represents your firm, and whatever impression the candidate has of the agency rubs off on your business.

I do not believe quotas or positive discrimination is the way forward; rather, let's recruit on merit alone.

Racism is a blight on parts of the IT recruitment industry and if we pretend it does not exist, it will continue and we will miss out on a large pool of talent due to ignorance and prejudice, while still shouting "skills shortage".

Ibukun Adebayo is director of IT at social care organisation Turning Point

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Does your experience of IT recruitment bear out Ibukun Adebayo's view? If you have an opinion about this or any article in Computer Weekly, e-mail [email protected]

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