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Sandra Kerr

Business in the Community

Race For Opportunity Director

Read more about Sandra Kerr

The business benefits of a diverse workforce


Tackling workplace barriers

This year two reports have been published, highlighting major inequalities in how women and ethnic minorities are progressing in the UK’s workplaces.

Race for Opportunity’s ‘Race at the Top’ found a widening leadership gap between Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people and their white counterparts when it came to securing their share of management roles proportionate to their representation in the  working population. And Project 28-40 found a gap between organisational policies and the actual experiences of 28-40 women at work.

Today, women make up 50% of the labour market. By 2051, one in five people in the UK will be from an ethnic minority. These two demographic groups represent a scale of consumer spending and political voting power that business and government alike cannot afford to ignore.

Achieving equality in the workplace at every level is about business sense, not moral pleading.  As well as the business benefits that diverse teams can bring, diversity enables organisations to reflect the communities, customers and client bases they serve and operate in.

Meaningful measurement 

An essential first step is to unpick your workforce’s metrics and understand the current situation. What are the numbers telling you? Look closely at recruitment and selection, the gender and BAME balance by level and function, promotion rates and appraisal scores, staff turnover, and pay and reward. Only then can you identify the sticky areas you need to address.

In our latest Race and Gender Benchmark, we found that whilst 71% of employers monitor their pool of applicants, only 36% use key performance indicators to track progression beyond application stage. Collecting this data could help employers to address why there are drop-offs in BAME representation at different stages of recruitment.

Getting the basics right

One of the most beneficial things organisations can do to address workforce inequalities is mandating unconscious bias training for anyone involved in recruitment and progression decisions. Our Benchmarking data consistently proves the value of tackling bias in recruitment for both gender and race. BAME people are more likely to be hired in organisations with mandatory unconscious bias training for recruiters, and in 2012, 67% of employers that had more equal rates of conversion from ‘shortlist’ to ‘hire’ for men and women during recruitment had mandatory unconscious bias training.

Organisations should consider compulsory annual unconscious bias training ‘refresher’ courses for employees making these critical decisions. For employees not directly involved in recruitment and progression, direct them towards a short self-assessment Unconscious Bias toolkit to help them start to understand how bias plays out in the workplace – although this is no replacement for proper training.

Mentoring talent

Mentoring can also help talented BAME staff to progress equally within an organisation. We launched a cross-sector mentoring circle pilot programme seven months ago and now have 10 circles running successfully. The circles enable mentees from 10 different organisations – including EDF Energy, Shell, Pertemps, Transport for London and HSBC – to learn together and coach, challenge and support each other, whilst being led by a senior level mentor. This type of network exposes individuals to the experiences and business advice from new sectors and different ways of thinking, which can be vital in boosting progression.

Flexible working

Flexible working isn’t just a women’s issue. Our analysis shows that organisations with higher numbers of BAME workers were more likely to promote flexible working options, highlight senior role models who work flexibly and invest in technology to support flexible working. Despite some advancements, many organisations are ill-prepared for the changes to employees’ rights to request flexible working which came into effect on 30 June 2014.

In fact, Opportunity Now’s Project 28-40 survey found that flexible workers were less likely to progress at the same rate as their peers, seen as less ambitious and even resented by colleagues. Race for Opportunity’s ‘Race and Recruitment’ research also found that many BAME workers see flexible working as a benefit solely for parents. 

Although the changes will hopefully help to remove the stigma around flexible working, organisations must ensure that their flexible working policies are robust enough to cope with these requests and create work environments that are inclusive to their employees’ requirements. Agile working also benefits those who want to practice their religion and increases flexibility to manage reasonable adjustments and potential downshifting for an aging workforce.

What works for everyone

In short, what works to create fair and inclusive workplaces for all employees – not just women and BAME staff – is providing environments where employees are recruited and promoted based on talent rather than ‘mirroring’ their interviewer. Where staff are able to work in the way that suits them best without fear of the impact on their career. Where they are able to achieve their aspirations without facing unnecessary and invisible barriers.  

As HR departments and businesses look to the long-term success of their organisation, and with research from McKinsey showing that companies with diverse boards experience 53% higher returns on equity, ensuring organisations retain and progress their best female and BAME employees is vital to remain competitive. It’s therefore more crucial than ever for senior leaders to place these issues right at the core of their businesses.  

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Sandra Kerr

Race For Opportunity Director

Read more from Sandra Kerr

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