UK businesses are failing BAME workers, so how can they improve?

The lack of diversity amongst those holding the top jobs at UK institutions is demonstrative of a cycle that puts Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals at a disadvantage on every rung of the career ladder. If businesses want to be a part of breaking the cycle and changing the future, they need to both acknowledge the problem and take steps to address it.

By 2030, it is estimated that 20 per cent of the UK’s workforce will come from a BAME background. With buy-in from the businesses themselves and a multi-level approach, we can ensure that those workers will enjoy the same opportunities as their white colleagues.

Lack of role models contributes to the problem

There’s no denying that lack of diversity is ingrained in many workplaces, to the detriment of the businesses themselves and the workers who are discouraged from seeking employment with them. When there are so few role models from the BAME community, it is easy to understand how the cultural divide continues to thrive. 

Seeing leadership roles and positions of responsibility filled by people from minority groups can have a huge impact on the way they are perceived by applicants. This, in turn, has a significant impact on the number of applications companies get from BAME candidates. A business which offers mentorship programmes, and promotes role models from all levels of the business, will encourage applicants from entry-level to upper management roles and remove some of the barriers that BAME individuals often experience. 

There are plenty of ideas for businesses that want to build diversity into their company culture. Some use techniques such as ‘reverse mentoring’ where senior staff work with an entry-level employee and learn about the hurdles they face in the workplace and in society in general. There are a number of ways in which organizations can take positive steps to promote diversity from within and change the culture of the company, and a number of household name businesses are using mentoring programmes and sponsorship to change the face of their organisation.

Being conscious of unconscious bias

For years, it has been widely accepted that we all hold a degree of unconscious bias that affects the way we view people and situations. Our society is structured around this kind of subconscious decision-making; we all do without even realising it. However, just because it is not conscious, does not mean it is something that we just have to accept. Unconscious bias puts any minority at risk of discrimination, including those of BAME background, disabled individuals and women. 

With two-thirds of BME workers saying that they had experienced racially motivated bullying or harassment in their workplace, it is clear that the laws against racial discrimination are not a sufficient deterrent. Businesses need to ensure that they are providing immediate help and support to workers suffering this kind of abuse. Only by operating a true zero-tolerance policy on this kind of behaviour will the workplace culture change. 

This action should extend to examples of unconscious bias as well. There is training available on how to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias, and a business that is committed to change will make it a part of their standard programme for all staff. The Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors have been called upon to spearhead the change and offer training and support to their members to help them embrace diversity more thoroughly.

Changing the workplace through data analysis

One of the most effective ways to make a change in a company’s culture is to collect hard data about their hiring patterns and diversity figures. Things will only change if the companies that are best placed to make changes take an active role in reviewing the statistics and setting measurable targets. In order to hold businesses to account, there has to be a way of measuring their progress and there are those who believe that only legislative intervention will force the hands of those businesses that should be leading the way. 

There are plenty of arguments in favour of increased transparency from the country’s largest employers. Recommendations include showcasing the career histories of senior staff to give junior team members ideas of how they can carve out successful careers; government intervention to insist that organisations adopt diversity policies and use industry best practice guidelines; conduct regular reviews to ascertain the level of progress made by participating institutions and endorse a culture where it becomes normal for companies that have had success in building diversity to be celebrated.

Creating inclusive spaces

By failing to talk about race and inclusivity, often on the grounds that they are worried about saying the wrong thing, many companies are tacitly promoting a culture which excludes minorities. In the current climate of Brexit uncertainty, BAME individuals are experiencing unprecedented levels of hostility from government organisations and this is leaking out into wider society. 

The potential new restrictions on visas mean that not only will businesses need to obtain a sponsor licence if they want to hire non-EEA staff, but this could be extended to cover even more potential workers. This kind of administrative hurdle will have to be overcome in order to promote diversity and encourage the UK’s businesses to prioritise diversity.  

Encouraging employers to talk about race, to acknowledge the difficulties and to address them effectively, is the only way to improve the situation for BAME individuals. The government needs to accept that they have a role to play in this process, by holding businesses to account and providing the framework for more inclusive and diverse workplaces and a complete shift in company culture.

Jo Smith is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors.