Rebecca Love reports on “Ethnic Inequalities at Work: Policy and Institutional Responses”

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Rebecca Love, Cumberland Lodge Scholar 2016 – 2018

The UK became a global leader in the gender equality fight with the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. Although the Act had inherent problems, it set an early tone for action on gender rights. Fast-forward to present day within the UK and evidence indicates we are increasingly lagging behind. The UK ranks 18th in the world in terms of a gender gap in the workplace, 43rd in women’s economic participation and 23rd in terms of political empowerment. Gender inequality is systematically present across the UK, worsening within Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) populations. The intersection of gender and ethnicity is a crucial issue that was discussed at the Cumberland Lodge’s Ethnic Inequalities at Work: Policy and Institutional Responses Conference.

Despite continuous claims over the past decade by Government leaders to reduce pay gaps and end workplace inequalities across gender and ethnicity little seems to be changing, painting a stark picture of an inherently sexist and racist society. Evidence presented by speakers demonstrated discrimination and bias embedded in organizational practice across all employment sectors. Women represent 55% of University graduates across UK post-secondary institutions. Evidence however reveals that while women are hired equally at entry level positions, their advancement into both the public and private sector management or senior positions is significantly reduced. Within the education sector, only 20% of tenured university professors and 14% of Vice-Chancellors are women. These figures worsen within the corporate sector, with only 6% of FTSE 100 executive positions and 3% of board chairpersons being held by females. Furthermore, within the British civil service at every level, women are paid less than men and despite a greater proportion of females employed overall, men outnumber women at all senior levels. These stark figures worsen when looking across BAME female populations.

Discussions during the conference were fierce concerning what needs to be done to reduce these inequalities. Between conference participants, multiple options emerged as necessary steps towards change. Consensus was reached on the need for legislative reform mandating gender and race information is published. Norway was used as an example where a law mandating salaries are published resulted in a substantial reduction of pay gaps. Effective monitoring and the development of transparent and clear evidence is a first step towards awareness and widespread change. Participants also advocated and agreed on the need for welfare and social reforms that enable more equitable participation in the labour market. One reform suggestion was for the development of a national childcare service to universally fund child care up to the age of 14. In addition, the need for a national career service to prevent occupational and vertical segregation by gender was voiced.

While agreement was reached that these population strategies are a step towards increasing equality at the intersection of gender and ethnicity across the entirety of the workforce, data indicates concentrated efforts are needed to address equality both leadership and senior positions. Throughout discussions and the conference’s sessions, a contentious issue emerged, being the use of targets and quotas as a means for change. A strong opinion against positive discrimination was put forth by a corporate executive present, who argued legislation of this form slows down innovation and economic growth. Change should therefore focus at the individual level including education and business HR efforts.  A focus on a growing economy this executive argued is a critical component of fostering growth and diversity. While education on the business case for equality including higher profitability and a high rate of return on investment can be made as encouragement for more diverse companies, history and stagnant progress has demonstrated that this isn’t enough. We cannot continue to put the onus on individuals while creating overarching diversity policies and waiting for change.

Take for example university professors across the UK’s Russell Group Universities. This group contains 24 Universities who are perceived to represent the best in the Country. Across all institutions there are only 22 black tenured female professors, equating to 2000 black female students for every black female professor. In comparison, there are 50 white male students for every white male professor. Evidence tells us that mentors are critical to professional success and career advancement. How can we expect equality in progression if we are not representing it in leadership at a University wide level? Putting the burden on the individual overlooks such constraints.  We are at a crucial point where we need fundamental and institutional change.

Both the Cameron and May governments, as well as prior administrations, have made continuous commitments to ending unequal pay gaps. Yet not much is changing. At the current rate of progression of women in UK politics, it will take 70 years to have equal gender roles and even longer to have a representative number of BAME females. One can look towards the use of quotas by the Labour Party in the 2015 general election for evidence of effectiveness of an action that has dramatically increased representation. Further data indicates that without substantial action the gender pay gap will not be eradicated until 2069. Without specified targets and legislation employers will continue to merely play lip service to diversity policies. It’s time for all workplaces to start taking this issue seriously.

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Rebecca Black Reports on 2016’s Cumberland Lodge Conference, “Ethnic Inequalities at Work: Policy and Institutional Responses”

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Becky Black, Cumberland Lodge Scholar 2015 – 2017

Cumberland Lodge recently hosted a two day conference supported by the Centre of Dynamics of Ethnicity, entitled Ethnic Inequalities in the Workplace. The introduction was clear and set the scene: there is no reason that in today’s world ethnic inequality can still exist in the workplace, there is a need to move beyond a room full of dusty reports and recommendations – it is time to create real change. Picking up the baton and building upon this a host of speakers from industry, academia and advocacy groups gave compelling arguments for the need to change (both at an individual and structural level).

We were shown fancy info-graphics and bar charts galore, all illustrating many depressing statistics. We were told how BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) people are under-represented at every management level in the workplace and how they are systematically worse off throughout higher education – despite performing better during secondary school exams. Sadly, it got worse, racial harassment and bullying within the workplace is still prevalent, with many employers and employees still not able to talk about ‘it’ (Race at Work 2015). Instead of dwelling on the negatives, conversations throughout the two days always retained a focus on solutions.

Somewhat ironically given the data presented is the fact that there are great benefits for businesses to ensure they have a diverse workforce. Diverse boards make better decisions and diverse workforces appeal to a wider range of customers and provide more innovative solutions. It was argued persuasively that the changing world almost demands such innovation and decision-making. Despite this, the business world has remained static in its recruitment, recognition and support of diverse and inclusive talent. One of the loudest rallying cries from the conference was simple: there is an urgent need for business to change, a need for a new ethos to be embedded in business and a need to embrace a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Within this call, there was the push for employers to re-define talent and the ways in which they seek and develop it. The traditional graduate recruitment process and the internal support networks within the workplace need to adapt. Instead employers need to be innovative in their hunt for talent and in their recruitment strategies. The demand for firsts and upper second class degrees risks losing a wealth of potential talent as well as  filtering out a disproportionate amount of BAME graduates. Alternative routes in to such employment are required as well as the targeting and building of aspirations in BAME communities. Internships with undergraduates, targeting school leavers and providing bespoke mentoring and support networks for BAME employees were all proposed to a welcoming applause. Exactly how and when these changes are enacted are separate questions however.

In learning to better foster and support talent entering into the workforce the conversation turned to quotas. Quotas turned in to a dirty word as conversations and discussions progressed. Hated by some, arguing that they can become tokenistic, yet seen as the only way to prioritise diversity and inclusion of BAME people in the unrelenting world of work by others. The only mutual conclusion that could be drawn was that quotas or targets would only be successful if they were publically published and held accountable. Employers need to become dynamic and self-responsible to achieve a diverse workforce, nevertheless, there needs to be an enforcement that applies pressure on them to ensure these targets remain a top priority.

Despite the rallying and evocative conversations and presentations seeds of doubt emerged. What about the current working generations, how do we ensure they are not disregarded as employers put in place new policies and practices to improve future ethnic diversity? Additionally, the conversation only occasionally turned to different and co-existing inequalities – what about gender, sexuality or disability, all known as being discriminated in the workforce as well? How do we avoid overlooking these and instead prioritise ‘equality for all’? And, importantly, there is a need to dissect the statistics and data, BAME people are not a homogenous group: Are all failing to achieve their potential, or are only some or are the majority? What barriers can be identified by the data we already have? Even amongst the doubts the message permeates through: there is no room for more talk – it is a time for change and action on ethnic inequality in the workforce.