Tried and tested ways for employers to commit to BAME early talent

Written by
Mary Appleton

08 Nov 2018

08 Nov 2018 • by Mary Appleton

Making headway on the BAME talent agenda requires commitment from employers across sectors and at all levels. So what are organisations doing at entry level?

Improving diversity is a key challenge this year for employers, according to the latest annual survey by the Institute of Student Employers (formerly the AGR).

The survey of 200 employers from across 15 sectors – who collectively employ more than 2.75 million staff – found that addressing diversity has risen in importance this year, above issues like Brexit and managing the Apprenticeship Levy.

“There is an appetite to improve diversity, specifically around BAME talent, this year,” says Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the ISE. “Race is a key area employers are focusing on.”

While data shows that overall, the share of BAME hires in graduate intakes broadly reflects the student demographics (the proportion of BAME students represented), Isherwood points out that this can hide issues in hiring certain groups such as black British males.

Isherwood believes employers’ focus on social mobility has improved how employers tackle BAME issues, as agendas overlap.

“Employers are looking at a broader range of candidates and working with different types of university,” he says. “As employers become more sophisticated in how they recruit students from diverse backgrounds and less reliant on blunt tools such as degree classification and A-level grades, I think we will see continual improvements in the diversity of graduate intakes,” he predicts.

The survey also highlighted challenges faced by certain sectors in recruiting BAME candidates. Here, we find out from employers how they are making the case for diversity at future-talent level.

"No one should be held back due to their ethnicity or any other aspect of who they are" - Claire England, head of diversity & inclusivity, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP

As businesses, we need to identify collectively what is holding people back and change this. There is a real need for the legal profession to continue to reach out to talented BAME individuals, and actively encourage applications.

According to the Law Society-sponsored Diversity League Table, the proportion of black associates has remained static in the past three years at just 1.4%.

At BLP, we want to change this. We introduced ‘Race for Change’ - a regular event to support future black lawyers – to help us change the makeup of the profession, winning ‘Best Diversity Initiative’ at The Lawyer Business Leadership Awards in September 2016.

We hope that with events such as this in the pipeline, we will address and eventually help redress, the current imbalance in black representation in the legal profession by openly airing issues and inspiring a new generation of black lawyers.

Making headway on the BAME talent agenda requires commitment from employers across sectors and at all levels. So what are organisations doing at entry level? black representation in the legal profession by openly airing issues and inspiring a new generation of black lawyers.

"If your attraction strategy is centred on traditional universities, you won’t get the talent pipeline your business needs." - Ashley Hever, talent acquisition director, Enterprise Rent-a-Car

It has to be a partnership. Companies should not rely solely on HR to drive change.

We recruit from all universities across the UK, which has resulted in hiring from more than 100 different institutions. It’s important that our 450-plus UK branches reflect the communities in which they operate.

When you recruit from the widest possible talent pool, you open your organisation to the best talent. It would be great to see more businesses conduct research like McKinsey & Company’s Diversity Matters report. Data is key in building the business case for driving positive change.

"Inclusion must be led from the top and embedded into corporate culture" - Nabila Aydin, VP global marketing & north America HR operations, FDM Group

We recruit based on talent, regardless of background, ethnicity or gender. Our recruiters are trained in unconscious bias and we use strength-based interviews to remove the social capital that competency-based questions require.


We also employ talent from all universities and select people who demonstrate the skills, potential and enthusiasm for a career in IT. This approach allows us to benefit from diversity of thought in an inclusive environment where everyone shares our values.

More than half (51%) of our 2016 intake into the FDM Careers Programme in the UK was from a BAME background. Inclusion must be led from the top and embedded into corporate culture.

Our success has been based on our CEO leading this from the start, when he set out to hire talent, no matter where it came from; this has become entrenched in our values.

Start by measuring where you are now and find out what issues you have so you can address them. We’ve learned that D&I can bring incredible talent into an organisation, but BAME talent is not a ‘nice to have’ but a key element of success. 

We’re starting to see more businesses employing strategies to eliminate unconscious bias by removing identifiers from information sent to recruiting managers, training and a broader awareness of the issues.

The business community should look to develop closer relationships with education bodies like schools and universities, as well as those who influence young people such as parents and extended family. Through role models, you can help improve understanding of the opportunities open to everyone to inspire future generations to join professions.

It would be great to reach a point in the future where we no longer discuss these issues, we simply talk about talent – background, ethnicity, gender, won’t be an issue because they will all be represented.

"Ensure the marketing, recruitment and selection process is supportive of minority groups" - Margaret Ann Roy, graduate recruitment manager, Pinsent Masons

More needs to be done to identify and remove barriers and ensure greater BAME representation at all levels in the legal sector, and we have identified this as a priority within our D&I strategy.

At the junior end, we are involved in the Black Lawyers Directory Foundation’s (BLD) ‘Legal Launchpad’ programme and run careers sessions for those on the programme.

The BLD Foundation supports young people from ethnic and/or socio-economically underprivileged backgrounds towards achieving their fullest potential.

Through our partnership, we work with inner-city schools to provide guidance and support for young people from less privileged backgrounds to consider a wide range of opportunities in the legal industry. 

We talk to pupils about their career plans and offer practical help with CVs and college applications. We also run events in conjunction with Aspiring Solicitors on campus to promote widening access to the profession.

At senior level, we’ve introduced face-to-face inclusive leadership training which is being delivered to all our management team and leaders globally.  We also use initiatives such as Black History Month to profile senior BAME role models (external and internal) through speaker events, posters and intranet campaigns.

Our aim is to ensure future leaders within our business see that opportunities exist for them regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and that we value and embrace diversity.

By sharing information about initiatives happening across the firm, we are showing potential candidates from BAME and other under-represented groups that we value diversity and encouraging them to consider a career in law.

We share success stories from colleagues who have faced challenges around ethnic origin, sexual orientation or disability. We hope that by sharing these real life examples we are providing role models or aspirational figures with whom candidates can identify.

If candidates can see that someone similar to them has enjoyed success, then why can’t they? If you are inclusive, a diverse workforce will take shape organically.

Leaders need to ensure hiring managers understand and value the benefits of a diverse workforce and ensure the marketing, recruitment and selection process is supportive of minority groups. Use inclusive language in your campaigns and provide role models that candidates can identify with. 

We want to encourage and inspire more BAME candidates to consider a career in law. It’s about understanding the background of the candidates.

Organisations should consider using contextualised recruitment systems to better understand the academic attainment of the candidates and the background in which they have achieved the results. If you can better understand the cultural and social background of all candidates, you are better placed to appreciate their potential.