Monday, 22 June 2020

BAME equality in the workplace

Last week I ‘attended’ Westminster Employment Forum’s conference BAME equality in the workplace. As the chair noted, given all the focus on Black Lives Matter currently, and also the new UK government commission, this is a particularly topical and relevant agenda.

Speakers referred to the McGregor Smith report last year suggesting that BAME equality would generate £24bn per year to the economy. Businesses need to invest in it as it’s the right thing to do, particularly given big business’ growing role in wider society, but also to get the best possible talent.

At 3.8% in the UK, the ethnicity pay gap is lower than that for gender, at 8.9%. However, some ethnic groups are much more affected, especially those with Bangladesh, Pakistan or Caribbean backgrounds with gaps at 20, 27 and 9%. And the gap for BAME women is much more significant.

There are multiple and complex barriers behind this, including social class, and lack of social mobility. For people coming to the UK, a lot of it is down to language and cultural barriers, and lack of recognition of qualifications. And bias and racism are clearly and important parts too. But the current focus provides a once in a generation opportunity to resolve these issues. Businesses need to take control and work towards understanding the barriers within their organisations.

A lot of the focus was on reporting, on ethnicity recruitment, progression and pay gaps. I agree that whilst a crude tool, this can be very effective in shining a light on the issue. EHRC research shows enthusiasm for reporting, but only 44% of organisations currently collect data on disability and just 36% for ethnicity. Only 3% use their data analyse to identify issues in pay and progression, which is just bizarre.

Firstly, it’s by using it constructively that employees will become more willing to provide the data. And if organisations don’t get data on more than say 40% of the employee population then they won’t be able to use it effectively - especially if it’s people from diverse populations who are not providing it. We heard about NatWest using a multi-faceted approach to get 83% of their staff providing ethnic background, and up to 87% in some areas.

And secondly, if organisations are going to be compelled to report externally, we should be doing this internally first. In fact, building on a recent post, I think a strategic narrative about what and how a company is doing can be much more valuable than a set of statistics.

A couple of speakers called for more use of blind application processes and diverse panels etc. Pinsent Masons talked about their contextual recruitment tool which I’d not come across before and pays attention to how well a candidate has done, given the difficulties they may have faced.

Other speakers promoted mentoring and support schemes, which is perhaps made harder because there are very few black people at top of organisations - but there’s no justification for only 33% of companies having an executive sponsor for D&I. There’s also a role for reverse mentoring. (Incidentally, I was very impressed by Cisco’s Multiplier Effect which I heard about a a Harvard Business Review event last year.)

We also talked about the role of broader employee networks to help people connect and which can help senior leaders understand the talent they have and be more aware of micro agressions etc. Eg there’s a cross government shadowing scheme in the UK which pairs people up and helps them broaden their senior leadership network, amplifying their success and letting people know the impact they are having, leading to better opportunities. But employee networks are more effective when a broader diversity of people want to be part of them, so their voice is not just those from ethnic minority backgrounds but allies as well (see my recent Linkedin article on ERGs, which I also spoke about at Symposium’s Diversity and Inclusion conference recently). And networks benefit from dedicated, and not just volunteer resourcing.

But too many organisation’s talent schemes focus on numbers of ethnic staff but don’t always make sure these people get the opportunity to be stretched, focusing on ticking the box rather than career watching.

Jon Ingham


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