On dealing with the premiss that the practice of recruitment and selection is a long
way from the recommendations of personnel textbooks, distinction must be taken into
account between explicit recommendations and guidelines, on one hand, and, on the other,
implicit suggestions stemming from the author’s own stance. The implications of distancing
from, or identification with, such explicit recommendations and implicit suggestions will be
viewed in this paper as well as forms of overt and covert resistance, or adhesion, assumed
in actual practice. Also central to the argument is what the whole issue means in terms of
both existing problems and potential future problems for the employer and the candidate,
for organizational management, the labour market and macro-economic welfare and
progress in general.
Employment decisions have traditionally been regarded as a privilege exclusive to
management. Many of the US personnel textbooks emphasize this aspect and describe the
process in terms of ‘hurdles over which prospective employees have to try to leap to avoid
rejection’ (Torrington and Hall, 1991:283). In the UK recruitment and selection is an issue
which has in the past kept a low profile in personnel textbooks, though the trend has
changed (e.g., Torrington and Hall, 1991, Keith Sisson, 1994), which appears to point out
to an evolution from the paternalistic perspective according to which recruitment tends to be
dominantly viewed from the angle of providing candidates for the selector to judge.
Recommendations are being made with respect to the various stages of the process of
recruitment and selection, from approaching and seeking to interest potential candidates to
determining whether to appoint any of them. Codes of practice and guidelines for their
implementation have been produced with emphasis on different aspects, e.g., on recruitment
starting with a job description and person specification, by IPM; on fair and efficient
selection, by EOC (1986); on avoidance of sex bias in selection testing, by EOC (1992);
on avoidance of improper discrimination, by ACAS (1981) and negative bias against age,
by IPM (1993); on non-discriminatory advertising, by CRE and EOC (1977, 1985); and
on the use of cognitive and psychometric tests, by IPM and BPS (1993).
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Moreover, legislation promoting equality of opportunity has underlined the importance of
using well-validated selection procedures (Torrington and Hall, 1991), and directives such
as those issued by CRE (1983) and EOC (1985) emphasize the need to comply with
anti-discrimination legislation and this way enhance opportunities to disadvantaged groups.
Greater formality will both make the concealment of racial and sexual discrimination more
difficult and will permit more effective retrospective surveillance by senior management and
bodies such as the CRE (Jenkins, 1982), thus to some extent remedying the weakness of
much of the EO literature in not frontally addressing the different types of discriminatory
decision, be it determinism, particularism, patronage or rational-legality (Jewson & Mason,
1986). As a counter-argument, however, the definition of the employer’s role as that
of implementing and monitoring formal procedures can be seen to absolve senior staff
of the responsibility for further investigation of the causes of continuing inequality
(Webb & Liff, 1988).
In fact, case studies have shown that such directives can be misused and their
intention subverted as often happens with respect to IPM’s recommendations on job
description and person specification (Collinson et al., 1990: 96-108), and,
furthermore, the legal
definition of ‘justifiability’ is sufficiently vague for the legislation to be ineffective; and
the workforce can be manipulated into becoming management’s accomplice in
discrimination (ibid.: 70-71). Some recommendations are, in themselves, not socially
and politically neutral enough to avoid ambiguity and, as such, encourage covert
discrimination. Highlighting the causes behind the problem, EOC points out that
gender discrimination is embedded in ‘myths’ (EOC, 1986:2), while we are also
reminded that motherhood still remains a stigma (Curran, 1988) as the general
ideology of gender still associates feminity with nurturing, and hence with servicing,
which is translated directly into specific occupational terms (Murgatroyd, 1982).
Accordingly - inspite of what has been achieved - women still face ‘bottleneck’ on
the way to top jobs in personnel, a situation which has been aggravated by a recent
regression in the previous upward trend for women, the latest figures standing at 44%
of all personnel managers but only 9.5% of personnel directors (PM Plus, 1994).
Getting into the