At a time when Britain is tackling low productivity and wrestling the implications of leaving the European Union, it is short-sighted to lock people out of the workplace, warns Chris Jones, chief executive of City & Guilds Group.
Are we bringing in enough diverse talent to our businesses?
Not yet. Ruby McGregor-Smith’s review reported that employment rates for people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are 12% lower than their white counterparts, or while the Social Mobility Commission found that only a fifth of the Muslim population is in full-time employment, compared to more than a third of the overall population; it’s clear we have a long way to go.
However, employers are still waking up to the business benefits of a diverse workforce as opposed to just seeing it as a corporate social responsibility initiative.
We are only at the beginning of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ which is bringing fundamental change to every business and industry.
Diversity will soon move from being a competitive advantage to a necessity for survival.
What are the barriers to change?
There are many. For starters, when recruiting new employees, we tend to hire candidates who are most like ourselves. Those from BAME backgrounds have reported not even reaching interview because of their names.
As Business in the Community has noted, this can make people feel as though certain sectors are closed to them and the cycle continues. One of the barriers we faced when making equality, diversity and inclusion a priority for our business was a lack of data on employees, which made it difficult to get a clear picture of how we were performing.
We have since committed to improving data and have made significant progress in the past year.
What needs to be done across the broader business landscape?
Businesses are increasingly aware of this issue and change is happening, albeit slowly. There’s no doubt that firms can go above and beyond mere legal compliance to enhance equality in the workplace – and that should be the goal of every business leader.
Discussion of how to embed change should happen at all levels of the business and be included in plans. Within industries and business groups more broadly, we need to share what’s working and celebrate success.
It’s easier for bigger corporates, with more resources, to make changes but by sharing ideas and learnings, we can make it easier for companies of all sizes to improve diversity.
What are you doing within City & Guilds Group on this agenda?
The idea that groups of people should be excluded from entering or progressing in work is unacceptable and I’ve committed to improving our diversity.
While different ethnic groups are well-represented in entry-level positions, we have fewer BAME managers and senior leaders. Since we started to focus on equality, diversity and inclusion over a year ago, we’ve managed to increase the percentage of BAME managers by more than 50%. But it’s still not good enough.
We’re also rolling out a mandatory recruitment programme for hiring managers that will focus on unconscious bias, to address the issue of hiring to type. And we remain committed to apprenticeships and work experience to give that vital first step into work to people from diverse backgrounds.
What would be your advice to your peers, how ca leaders make a difference?
Scrutinise every practice you have for recruiting, retaining and developing staff and ask how it could improve diversity. Are you giving people from diverse backgrounds an equal chance or hiring from a pool of ‘people like you’? HR professionals have an opportunity to drive this agenda and create organisations in which everyone can thrive.
STEPS TOWARDS CHANGE: Top tips
Broaden your talent pool. Look beyond graduate recruitment programmes. If you’re paying an apprenticeship levy, look at how you can use apprenticeships to attract a diverse set of applicants.
Internship programmes can often penalise people who cannot afford to work for free. Consider joining programmes such as Creative Access which helps young people from BAME backgrounds get into the creative industries by connecting them with paid internship opportunities.
Also look at Future Proof, which has ideas on more inclusive recruitment and development approaches.
Look at access to training. It’s not enough to focus on diversifying your recruitment if progression opportunities are not the same for all.
Hold yourself accountable with data. If you know the make-up of your employees, you will be able to see where there is under-representation of certain groups in certain positions.
Take people with you. Communications, training and development on equality, diversity and inclusion is key to success.