Jack Yates is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of immigration lawyers.
It is no secret that BAME people in the United Kingdom are underrepresented across the board; from politics to television, and the world of work is no different. Only 6% of management roles in the UK are held by BAME people, despite the fact that they make up 12.5% of the working age population. This highlights quite starkly the underrepresentation that BAME people face, and forces us to confront some harsh truths about the structural barriers and unconscious biases that prevent us from effectively and fairly diversifying the workforce. While it must be said that the most important motivation to right this wrong must be fairness and equality, it is worth noting that these issues not only damage our moral standing, but also the economy; studies suggest that equal representation for BAME people would generate £24 billion a year.
An initiative that can be helpful to remedy a lack of diversity is that of BAME role models and mentors; drawing role models and mentors from all levels of a business – rather than just those from the upper echelons which is usually the case – can help to support the progression of BAME employees who are often disheartened by the lack of diversity in the positions above their own. A respondent from a case study at Lloyds Bank who had trialled this spoke of how important it was to them to have BAME role models that they could look up to and be supported by: “When I applied for this role and was doing my research, I looked at the board of directors and I noticed that the CFO was BAME… It was important to me to see someone that senior. When I joined, I made the effort to get closer to this guy and he helped me a lot.”
It is also important for businesses to be open about their successes and failings in encouraging and building a diverse workforce. Businesses should publish targets and report on them annually as this both demonstrates that they are actively working to improve the situation, but also creates a sense of accountability. In the spirit of openness, they should also carry out reviews into how representative their pay structures and roles are of society as a whole. If companies are not willing – or mandated – to be open in their promotion and analysis of their BAME workers, then they are less likely to be successful in creating a more representative workforce. In order to hire non-EEA workers, employers are required to obtain a sponsor licence. This can result in a further lack of cultural diversity in the workforce, as it constitutes an additional barrier that is often off-putting to employers. With this in mind, more supportive policies from the Government itself would also go a long way.
It is important to discuss ways in which the lack of adequate BAME representation in the workforce can be improved, but it is equally important to understand how we got here. Biases and structural barriers are an impediment to people from all across society; women, people with disabilities, those with mental health issues, and many more, however they are particularly damaging when it comes to BAME people. This affects every stage of their interaction with work; from the initial job application, to face to face interviews, to seeking promotions within their workplace. For all the talk of ‘unconscious bias’ in the workplace, what often goes unsaid is that much of this is actually very conscious – two thirds of BAME individuals said that they had been a victim of racial harassment or bullying in the last half decade. Whilst this is certainly illegal, many employees do not feel comfortable reporting this as it can come from managers, or they may have little faith in management to take decisive action. As long as this is the case, no employer can hope to promote a diverse and representative workforce. Compounding this is the issue that much bias is unconscious, and although it would be hard to argue that society as a whole does not have a racism problem, people are less willing to accept that they can internalise these biases. This is why it is important to carry out unconscious bias training in the workplace. When people are better equipped to identify their own biases, they are simultaneously better equipped to set them aside.
Unconscious bias training should help to inform the recruitment process in order to ensure that no one is obstructed from gaining employment due to the unconscious biases of the recruiters. Many organisations have now implemented name-blind recruitment. However, it is also important on top of this to apply when looking at an applicant’s CV: what was their economic background or personal circumstances? Could this be the reason they did not attend an elite university? This, combined with a diverse interview panel in order to make a stressful experience more comfortable, would be a start in putting an end to the obstructions that unconscious biases have placed on the recruitment process.
We must urgently put an end to the discrimination that BAME people face when they interact with the labour market, and although the suggestions outlined early can be – and have proved to be – useful, sometimes the most important steps are the simplest; breaking the silence. To truly create a representative and diverse workforce, it is absolutely vital that employers are willing to earnestly discuss diversity, boost the views of their BAME employees, and make it okay for people to ask questions and raise concerns. Talk publicly and openly about the steps that your company is taking, and allow BAME people to guide this process from the inside rather than out as is so often the case. We can build a fairer and more equal workforce, but it will require employers to genuinely pursue this cause to make it a reality.