The employer action needed to address the significant lack of racial equality in career progression

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New CIPD research aims to help employers address the stark racial inequalities in career progression evident in UK organisations. The report, Addressing the barriers to BAME employee career progression to the top, examines black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in the workplace.

A panel discussion marked the launch of this research, chaired by former Labour MP and chair of the BEIS Select Committee, Iain Wright, and with a keynote address by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, CBE. Discussion of the research findings focused on the factors limiting career opportunity, including discrimination and a lack of role models as well as the measures that can boost career progression. BAME employees were significantly more likely than white British employees to say seeing people like them have progressed in the organisation, having a mentor and a greater diversity of people at senior level.

What will make the difference?
We’ve drawn out five overarching recommendations for employers from our research findings and urge HR professionals and business leaders to consider these within their organisations.

Understand what is happening in your organisation

The structural and cultural barriers that are maintaining workplace inequalities and the appropriate solutions will differ between organisations, so having a deep understanding of your own business context is crucial. Working across the business, HR can use their people insight to drive change at a much quicker pace than we are seeing at the moment. For example, do you look at how different groups are progressing, or where there may be glass ceilings?

An evidence-based approach will help you get to the real grassroots issues. However, we need to be cautious about making generalisations, as the term BAME encompasses people from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and traditions who are facing different barriers to career progression.

Be aware of intersectionality and examine progression barriers through multiple lenses

Intersectionality refers to the fact we have multiple identities and they overlap – for example, being a gay black man, or an older white woman with a disability. When we’re examining the work experience of people with a particular characteristic or identity, it’s important to be aware of the potential interplay of overlapping identities. For example, does being a woman from an ethnic minority background mean you have more equal opportunities through progress on gender, but are still at a disadvantage at work because of being from a minority ethnic group?

Critically appraise your organisation culture

Would you want to work for an organisation where you didn’t feel you belonged or had the same opportunities as others, based on an aspect of your identity or circumstance? How much time and energy is spent censoring yourself when you don’t feel you can be who you really are? Around two-thirds of employees, regardless of ethnicity, feel able to be themselves at work, signalling there is marked room for improvement to make workplace cultures genuinely inclusive.

HR policies and processes that promote diversity and inclusion can set expectations, but they need to be brought alive by the behaviour of everyone in the business.

Actively encourage employee voice to inform change

It’s essential that disadvantaged and disconnected groups have access to mechanisms through which they can express their voice and employee resource groups (ERGs) can be a useful mechanism for this. For an organisation, these can be a valuable resource to advise on the work experience of people with that particular characteristic, identity or background, and act as a sounding board for ideas, including your products and services.

Address unconscious bias

It goes without saying that we need to continue to tackle overt discrimination head on. It’s shocking that significantly more people from a BAME background (in particular black employees) than white British say that experiencing discrimination is a factor contributing to them failing to achieve their career expectations. However, we also all carry biases that we may not be aware of but that are affecting our behaviour and decision-making. Unconscious bias is one of the main barriers to equality of opportunity for both access to and progression in work and needs to be addressed.

Access the full report here.

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