Changing demographics: employers must action plan now

Sandra Kerr OBE race equality director, Business in the Community

Sandra Kerr OBE,  Race Equality Director, Business in the Community

Earlier this week a report from the Social Mobility & Child Poverty Forum found that working-class pupils face barriers to getting the top jobs, echoing many of the issues faced by BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) young people. Meanwhile, the Department for Education reported the number of BAME pupils has also risen to 30.4% of primary school pupils and 27.4% of secondary school pupils. These young people are going to be the employees and consumers of the future in just a few years - and employers cannot ignore them any longer.

Despite the increase in BAME university students – one in six UK-domiciled students now comes from a BAME background – they still face difficulties when it comes to finding work, with BAME graduates more likely to be unemployed six months after graduation than their white counterparts. Overall, according to the Department for Work and Pensions, 28.6% of BAME 16-24 year olds are unemployed, compared to 17% of white 16-24 year olds. Our Aspiration and Frustration research also found that many BAME people are put off entering careers such as politics, law and media; consequently, these sectors do not reflect the clients, customers and communities they serve.

Not embracing a diverse workforce could have real consequences for a business’ bottom line.

All these statistics make for frankly depressing reading, and show that the UK’s workplaces are not reflecting the country’s changing demographics. But if they don’t, they risk not only missing out on a pool of potential talent that could benefit their business, but also damaging their organisation. Research from McKinsey shows that the most ethnically diverse companies were 35% more likely to outperform the least diverse - suggesting that not embracing a diverse workforce could have real consequences for a business’ bottom line.

So what can employers do to ensure they reach BAME applicants? Our Gender and Race Benchmark 2014 shows that organisations with similar levels of conversion rates from application to hiring for BAME and white candidates are more likely to use a range of recruitment channels. This is particularly key for BAME graduates, who are under-represented at the Russell Group universities where many companies concentrate their graduate recruitment. The Benchmark also shows that ‘pre-application’ events for diverse groups, targeting diverse candidates at events and providing unconscious bias training for recruiters can also have a considerable impact on increasing applications and hiring rates of BAME people.

It is important to engage with young BAME people at an early age to make them aware of opportunities available, and examine their recruitment and progression processes to ensure fair access to those opportunities.

Role models can also have a significant impact on BAME young people’s aspirations, yet there is a persistent lack of BAME representation at senior levels. Just this week, for instance, it was reported that there were no Black or Asian head or deputy head teachers in Scottish schools last year. I have talked about the issue of recruiting more BAME teachers in a previous blog, but would like to highlight some points from that which apply to all employers: that progression and appraisal processes must be equality-proofed, criteria for achieving ‘high potential’ ratings must be assessed and selection criteria must be fully transparent. 

The UK’s demographics are changing – and employers must action plan now so they can keep up with a rapidly changing demographic talent pool in a local and global business environment.

I hope that we will be seeing some joined up thinking in Government on the back of this report to build the pipeline of teachers from BAME backgrounds in UK in both primary and secondary schools – many who can be the vital role models that are urgently needed to encourage aspiration.  A sensible twin track approach could be to engage teachers from  Commonwealth countries where the educational blueprint is the same as the UK to populate the pipeline in the short term and at the same time supporting organisations like Teach First to continue to continue the great work to inspire talented people from BAME backgrounds into a teaching career.  I noted this article from BBC news about the Home Office capping the immigration of skilled teachers.  I can only hope that any decision to bar any skilled teacher has been taken in the light of the report released by the Department of Education last week and an understanding of the diverse talent pool and pipeline of teachers that we obviously need right now within many of our schools across the country.

Employers from all sectors need to ensure they are not left behind in the race for diverse talent, including BAME applicants of all ages. It is important to engage with young BAME people at an early age to make them aware of opportunities available, and examine their recruitment and progression processes to ensure fair access to those opportunities. The UK’s demographics are changing – and employers must action plan now so they can keep up with a rapidly changing demographic talent pool in a local and global business environment.