Sandra Kerr OBE, Race Equality Director, Business in the Community
Last week the latest round of employment statistics were announced. Among the findings was that unemployment rates are continuing to fall more slowly for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people than their white counterparts – and for some groups the figure is rising instead. It follows the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of plans for Ucas to remove candidates’ names from their university application forms, in order to reduce unconscious bias against BAME students, and that several employers have agreed plans to recruit on a name-blind basis, including the BBC, KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte and the Civil Service.
We know that BAME people are less likely to be in employment than their white counterparts, and that they remain under-represented at Britain’s top universities.
Research also shows that job applications from people with a white-sounding name are nearly twice as likely to be called for an interview than those from people with an ethnic minority name.
Name-blind application forms are a positive step from addressing these issues at the sift stage and possibly will help where no face-to-face interview is conducted. However, whilst it can help increase the number of BAME candidates getting to interview stage, it doesn’t deal with issues of unconscious bias that may arise once recruiters meet the candidates face-to-face – and may ultimately stop the people who are actually the best fit with their different perspectives and backgrounds that would help the organisation to be more creative, innovative and avoid group-think from getting the job.
University courses are a slightly different case. Often there are no interviews involved, and in these instance name-blind applications may help to increase BAME representation. However, a number of the most elite institutions, such as Oxbridge, do still have face-to-face interviews for candidates. This raises similar issues to those in the workplace, particularly when graduates from these universities are more likely to be in higher-paid professional jobs in fields such as law or journalism.
This is why we have called on the government in our Race at Work report which heard from 24.457 people in the UK to draw up a policy framework on race that includes a strong recruitment agenda to close the unemployment gap which has stubbornly persisted for many years.
So what can employers do to address issues of unconscious bias outside the sifting stage?
The first of ten recommendations for employers in our Race at Work report is to increase access to work experience. There is overwhelming acknowledgement that work experience is critical for gaining access into the workplace. With more than 70% of those who responded saying this is the case. Employers need to ensure they are giving equal access to work experience opportunities to young people from BAME backgrounds, and consider other ways of engaging with potential talent when a broad portfolio of work experience is not available.
Our Race and Gender Benchmark also shows that there are a number of approaches that organisations with similar rates of conversion from application to hiring for BAME candidates take. These include monitoring the number of BAME candidates at each stage of the process, involving BAME staff at all stages and providing mandatory unconscious bias training for anyone involved in recruitment, and I would encourage all employers to consider applying these actions to their own recruitment strategies. Many of our Award winners and finalists also showcase best practice in recruiting diverse talent, such as contextualised recruitment with Rare and Clifford Chance, and great examples from Barclays and Teach First.
However, simply dealing with the issue of getting more BAME people into jobs is not enough; we need to ensure that they are in rewarding work, where they are treated fairly and able to progress. Our Race at Work report, published this week, found that whilst BAME employees were more likely to enjoy their work and more ambitious than their white colleagues. If the leadership pipeline of today is not populated with sufficient BAME talent, the senior management of the future will not reflect the UK’s increasingly diverse population.
In short, whilst name-blind applications are a positive first step in building a more diverse workforce, we need focus on tackling barriers to BAME candidates at each stage of the process through to selection and appointment. Employers must also ensure that their workplaces are fair and inclusive by addressing issues facing their BAME employees, such as a lack of role models, increasing access to fast-track programmes to grow top talent and increasing support from managers and leaders as mentors and sponsors. Only then will we create workforces that reflect the rich diversity of clients, customers and communities they serve.