Race at work: The zeitgeist has arrived

Failure to act on the findings of the Race Disparity Audit is detrimental to self-interest, argues Raj Tulsiani

In 2016, the Prime Minister announced the Race Disparity Audit with the aim of highlighting differences in the treatment of people from different ethnicities across the UK’s public services. e audit amalgamates over 300 existing information sources and has the potential to become a tangible barometer for measuring diversity progress in the Public Sector.

Alongside others at Green Park, I spoke to more than 30 people who criticised the report for one reason or another, homing in on the fact it is not doing enough and lacks clear pathways to improvement. However, my response to each of these criticisms was: “It is a start, it is comprehensive and it has created political capital, meaning not acting on the findings are detrimental to self-interest – which is brilliant!”

Overall, the audit was a fantastic tool that crushed the argument that racial equality in the workplace can be improved through social mobility interventions alone. e audit revealed pupils in several ethnic groups were achieving better than White British pupils, who were making less progress than average.

Despite this, employment rates are higher for white workers than minority ethnic workers across the country by around 10 per cent. In addition, the audit showed a larger percentage of black/black British workers (16 per cent) in the lowest skilled occupations compared to white workers (11 per cent).

Employment rates have increased for all ethnic groups, but substantive differences remain in their participation in the labour market; around 1
in 10 adults from a Black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Mixed background were unemployed compared with 1 in 25 White British people. There appears therefore to be a significant disconnect between the trends we see in education and trends we see in the labour market. Analysing educational attainment and employment statistics, it is clear that the barrier to ethnic minority recruitment and progression is clearly located with employers.

Our research shows it is ingrained organisational prejudices that prevent minority progression in organisations. It also confirms that we require a much more informed, supply-led talent debate.

Recent research undertaken by Green Park found across the public and private sector 82 per cent of ethnic minority leaders do not trust the organisations they work for, believing there is institutional prejudice against minorities in the UK. Almost one in five (18 per cent) ethnic minority leaders have personally experienced workplace discrimination in the last two years.

The trust deficit

I hope that the audit will encourage the leaders of our organisations to confront their trust deficit. People need to believe that promised opportunities are achievable and attainable. To give an example, many companies are promising to increase the number of employees from minority ethnic backgrounds, but they are not delivering effective diversity management. Even when the number of minority groups increases in absolute employment terms, their experience in the workplace isn’t equitable. Research reveals progress plateaus for minorities are far greater compared to white employees, promotions take longer and employees feel excluded from colleagues’ social interactions.

It is almost impossible to now deny that trust isn’t broken and that institutional prejudice doesn’t exist when we see the Civil Service is around 97 per cent white at its senior levels, with just 3 per cent ethnic minority makeup compared to the 13 per cent average for the UK population.

Government moves to force departments to “change or explain” the statistics on diversity means the issue must be addressed. Hiring managers can no longer get away with using traditional objections to diversification: “the talent isn’t out there”, “we didn’t get the right choice from our head-hunters” or my personal bête noire, “great candidate but perhaps a bit too risky, culturally.”

Hiring managers will have to explain why they couldn’t identify, attract and hire minority candidates, or change their practices so we see a formative change in future. Elsewhere, the Department for Work and Pensions have said they will take action in 20 “hotspots”, including mentoring schemes to help those from minority ethnic groups get into work and traineeships for 16 to 24 year olds.

As the demographic of the labour market changes, employers will need to change entrenched attitudes if they wish to attract and attain the best talent.

The race audit is a starting point but we need to evolve beyond measuring diversity purely in terms of representation, which still leaves the opportunity for assimilation. Current measures are a blunt instrument, they don’t analyse whether employees feel they are forced to conform and assimilate behaviours.

A crucial point to consider is the culture of an organisation when it comes to diversity – for example, business deals that are conducted over drinks in a bar, which could alienate Muslim employees. This evolution of diversity measurement is crucial. Deloitte’s research reveals millennials, who will comprise nearly 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, believe inclusion is a key measure. This demographic supports collaborative environments that value open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives.

Organisations that measure inclusion of employees and ensure an acceptance of a diversity of outlook are likely therefore to thrive. It is these inclusivity measures that future audits should also hope to address, we can therefore not just look at representation and position in an organisation, but also measure a cultural change has taken place where employees feel included.

This Race Disparity Audit has changed the zeitgeist and this is what gives me the most enthusiasm. I believe that this time around, choices and changes will be made because the world has moved on and all our institutions are merely catching up or fighting to stay relevant. There is a clear requirement for institutions and leaders alike to become savvier about diversity as a means by which to rebuild trust with customers and employees before they become even further out of touch with the very people they are trying to serve.

Underlying causes

Our research found that the biggest barrier to addressing the issue of greater ethnic minority representation on boards is underdeveloped pipelines and strategies, followed by a lack of accountability in the recruitment supply chain and a lack of commitment to diversity. Ethnic minority leaders, for example, felt that the recruitment function in organisations lacked a desire to look
for and create value propositions for “unusual suspects”.

“Equality and workforce diversity must become a board level issue”

More generally, there is a fear of talking openly about the dangers of institutional racial prejudice, addressing the way people think about and measure it. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed believe that the greatest part of workplace prejudice is unconscious.

 

To try and help resolve some of these issues, here at Green Park, we make five recommendations to business leaders that will help to tackle lack of ethnic diversity in their organisations:

  1. Lead change from the top

Diversity is not something the CEO should hand to a Human Resources Director to “sort out,” as this strategy has been shown to be ineffective. Equality and workforce diversity must become
a board level issue, with the executive publicly and regularly showing support. This is borne out in our research, which showed 84% of ethnic minority leaders want stronger leadership from the top on diversity and inclusion initiatives.

  1. Optimise the supply chain

If organisations want to ensure they are reaching diverse candidates, they need to work with suppliers with lived experience and credibility that diverse candidates already trust.

  1. Create your own talent map

Recruiters should be tasked with isolating talent pools, internally and externally. There is a need to create programmes to engage and progress diverse talent and regular reporting is required to ensure representation is proportionally maintained.

  1. Tackle the difficult conversations on race and difference

Organisations must be open and ac- countable, making top down public and transparent commitments to change and place people in charge of delivering this, including the board, executive and supply chain. People need to take greater accountability, 64 per cent of ethnic minority leaders say currently there is no organisational accountability for failed diversity initiatives.

  1. Collect data

The research found that 78 per cent of firms have no ethnic minority leader- ship targets within their organisations. It is imperative to know where diverse talent sits in an organisation and the concordance between their views and those of its customers to be truly able to ensure equal opportunity for development and progression.

In the age of information accessibility, we are seeing more and more institutions crumble overnight because of poor and deprioritised stances around diversity. Look at Uber for ex- ample. Traditionally, a group of young entrepreneurs getting criticism around bad company culture would have made front-page news but little else. This new age dictates that not only has the organisation had to make their chief executive step down now, which we’ve seen many times before, but the company’s unassailable market position been damaged, their territories and operations have been affected and their global brand has been tainted. In this case, bad diversity has turned into a multi-million value loss.

Diversity must be a central objective of any recruitment or talent management strategy. This isn’t an issue of political correctness; it is one of ensuring public and private sector organisations draw upon the largest possible talent pool, benefitting from the breadth of experience and expertise of a diverse workforce.

We need much greater diversity at board level as a matter of urgency. There is no point having programmes at entry level that deliver greater diversity if these candidates become quickly disillusioned when they see a “ceiling” that they will find difficult to break through.

Raj Tulsiani is chief executive and co-founder of Green Park

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of LEAD. To make sure you never miss an issue, subscribe today for as little as £50 for the year.