It's time to take action on race inequality

Written by
Sandra Kerr
Business in the Community

14 Jun 2018

14 Jun 2018 • by Sandra Kerr

Within Britain’s workplaces, BAME employees continue to be under-represented, particularly at senior levels. So what can you do to address this? Sandra Kerr outlines why 'doing nothing' is no longer an option.


The topic of race equality in the workplace is increasingly high-profile, following the publication of the government’s race disparity audit and the Greater London Authority publishing its ethnicity pay gap.

Yet within Britain’s workplaces, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) employees continue to be under-represented, particularly at senior levels. So what are the reasons behind this, and what can employers do about it?

Under-representation of BAME talent 

One in four primary and secondary school pupils now comes from a BAME background, while one-sixth of UK-domiciled university students are BAME. However, BAME people continue to be under-represented in UK workforces.

While one in eight UK adults of working age is from a BAME background, just one in ten employees, one in 12 managers and one in 16 senior managers is BAME.

BAME employees currently face numerous barriers in recruitment and progression. For example, they may experience unconscious bias during the recruitment and appraisal process.

Unconscious bias is a process whereby people favour others who are similar to them, which may lead to employers hiring or promoting people from similar backgrounds without realising they are doing so.

If the people in these positions are not from a BAME background – which is particularly the case for senior roles – then it’s not unreasonable to suppose that BAME candidates may be unconsciously being overlooked for roles.

Business in the Community (BITC) recently released new research on unconscious bias, which found that whilst overall top executives in the UK had a lower level of racial bias compared to those in the US and Europe, this has risen slightly since 2015 – a potential cause for concern.

Additionally, BAME employees may not be currently accessing opportunities which enable them to progress in their careers. Previous BITC research found that while BAME employees have more ambition that their white colleagues, they’re also less likely to be part of fast-track programmes.

With a place on these programmes often playing a key part in promotion and appraisal processes, lack of access may mean that BAME employees are missing out on a fair chance to progress – and in turn employers are losing out on the best people for the job.

Racism remains a persistent feature of working life in Britain. BAME employees experience racism in a range of ways and from a range of people they encounter in their working lives, including managers, colleagues, customers and contractors.

In many cases, experiencing racism at work negatively affects BAME employees’ physical and mental health, as well as opportunities for additional training and career progression. With a rise in hate crimes reported following the Brexit vote, there are concerns that this could continue to escalate further.

Why should we care?

Recent research by McKinsey shows that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 33% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.

This means that employers who do not have fair and inclusive workplaces may not only be missing out on a wealth of talent, experience and skills that BAME employees can bring to their organisations, but also risk a significant financial impact.

The under-representation of BAME employees at senior levels may also be contributing to an ‘ethnicity pay gap’.

With the recent spotlight on gender pay gap reporting highlighting that a key reason for pay gaps in many organisations is due to the lack of women in top jobs, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that a BAME pay gap would exist for similar reasons. In fact, this was the reason that the Greater London Authority cited when it recently published its pay gap.

Taking action

There are a number of actions you can take now to address the under-representation of BAME employees within your workforce, and at senior levels.

Encourage constructive conversations about race in the workplace and agree actions including:

  • Providing unconscious bias training to all employees involved in recruitment and appraisal processes
  • Setting targets and monitoring the number of BAME candidates at each stage of the recruitment process, as well as the number on fast-track programmes and who are ranked in the top positions during appraisal processes
  • Setting objectives for managers on ensuring diversity and inclusion in their teams at all levels
  • Communicating a zero tolerance policy on racial bullying and harassment, ensuring perpetrators are dealt with and making reporting straightforward and accessible
  • Ensuring that recruitment and promotion panels are diverse wherever possible
  • Encouraging and delivering mentoring (including reverse mentoring)
  • Identifying diverse role models at all levels within your organisation

The UK’s BAME population represents a significant proportion of talent that employers can benefit from.

However, doing nothing means the BAME employment gap will only continue to grow – meaning both employees and employers lose out.

By acting now to close the gap and create fair and inclusive workplaces at all levels, you will show that you take the issue of workplace race equality seriously and are able to thrive in a rapidly changing global work environment.

What's your experience? Take our survey

Business in the Community is currently conducting the Race at Work survey, supported by the UK Government, which aims to examine the current situation for BAME employees in UK workplaces. The survey is open to everyone under the age of 16 who is employed or self-employed in the UK until 02 May 2018, and can be accessed here.

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