The Way to Progression? Transparency and Mentoring.

Sandra Kerr OBE





Blog by Sandra Kerr OBE, Director Race for Opportunity

I strongly believe that the way to speed up and ensure more equal career progression for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people is through greater employer transparency on career paths, and more mentoring.

Race for Opportunity has been encouraging and enabling its members to engage with mentoring for many years, and is now starting to have frank conversations with employers about transparency.  I have also been having interesting conversations in light of coming changes to Universal Credit with Department of Work and Pensions in my capacity as Chair of the Ethnic Minority Employment Stakeholder Group (EMESG), and believe there is potential for transformational action within some sectors.

So, what does this conversation entail? We ask employers to review and change three aspects of their organisational structure. 

  1. Transparency.

This means transparency over the steps of how progression works in an organisation. Transparency on pay scales, level bands/grades, and of exactly what skills and experience is required to move up to the next level. This information should be easily and clearly available to each employee, regardless of level.

We ask employers to:

  • Map out what a potential career path could be for each role. A lateral move can extend skills and experience for the future as much as an upwards move
  • Explain the skills, qualifications and experiences employees need at each level to demonstrate their potential to move up
  • Provide understanding on how to gain this additional skill and expertise, and the length of time the individual should be expected to stay at each level
  • Transparent pay scales can be very motivational and help people see increases of earning potential
  • Consider what tools they can provide to help employees with their learning and development and sign post them, if relevant, to respected industry accreditations

This is about employers, senior managers and line managers engaging with their employees and promoting work opportunities across the wider workforce that could expand an individual’s portfolio of skills and experience.

To make it truly inclusive, we urge employers to mandate unconscious bias training for all individuals involved with any recruitment, progression or pay decisions. The 2012 Business in the Community Gender and Race Benchmarking Trends Analysis Report showed that of those organisations with higher BAME recruitment rates (over 15%), 50% mandate unconscious bias training for employees with interviewing and recruitment responsibilities (only 5% of organisations with lower recruitments rates do this). 
View the 2012 Benchmarking Trends Analysis

  1. Rethink traditional career paths

Some sectors are very structured in seeing and offering very little or no progression from junior or manual roles.  There is a need for these sectors and employers to understand that an individual might have potential beyond that role. They need to map out potential career paths to enable people in these roles to aspire and achieve.

The 2012 Gender and Race Benchmarking Survey also found that employers with transparent selection criteria that can be viewed by all employees have a better balanced workforce of all of the UK ethnicity groups, as well as more BAME people in senior levels than those organisations that do not.

It is clear that increased transparency in this area can improve the attractiveness of an organisation as an employer and aid talent retention, as BAME jobseekers and employees alike can see what their potential career path could look like. 

  1. Mentoring.

From Ministers to Chairman, Chief Executives to line managers – the majority of those that I have met are willing to confess that someone mentored them along the way. And, what I mean by ‘mentoring’ is someone giving advice, challenging them to do more, and even opening doors to new experiences, responsibilities or opportunities.

Everyone has the right to greater earning power, and mentoring is one of the best ways of helping an individual to realise and unlock their greater potential. It is also extremely rewarding to be a mentor, as you often end up learning something from your mentee!


Race for Opportunity’s Leadership team fully recognises the power of mentoring as such an effective mechanism for change that it has established a dedicated Sub-Group to focus on the issue. We have leaders from the British Army, EDF Energy, Sainsburys and Transport for London working closely together, and with the Race for Opportunity Youth Advisory Panel, to develop actions for our members.

Race for Opportunity is calling on all employers to seek ways to improve the transparency of their steps to progression, and to implement and encourage formal mentoring to help employees who would benefit from the support.

Employers in the private and public sectors have pools of talented people working for them, with aspirations and goals of their own. Why not enable them to share some of what they know and have learned with others?


Want to do more with your organisation’s mentoring?

Why not contact us at Race for Opportunity or at the Department for Work and Pensions