Despite legislation designed to prevent discrimination, workplaces in the UK can still be hostile environments for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers. An overall lack of diversity in some industries and at certain levels of seniority is compounded by reports that two-thirds of BAME employees have experienced racially-motivated harassment in the last five years. In order to combat these issues, employers need to ensure that they are encouraging a culture which provides staff of all backgrounds with an equal opportunity to thrive.
Supporting Career Growth Through Mentoring and Role Modelling
In order to provide staff of all backgrounds with equal career progression opportunities, the creation of a nurturing environment is of paramount importance. There are several initiatives that employers can implement to help create a more integrated workplace; these include multi-level mentoring, role modelling, and the provision of sponsorship opportunities.
Asking managers to share the benefit of their experience with staff has been a successful strategy for developing the careers of employees who are seeking promotion and career development opportunities. This can be even more effective when staff have ‘next up’ role models drawn from all levels of the organisation, offering advice and support for workers at all stages of their careers. While it is vital for senior management to act as role models, ‘next up’ role models are hugely useful as they shine a light on the more immediate opportunities available to a staff member.
Reverse mentoring and circular mentoring are also becoming more popular, allowing senior team members to get a sense of what life is like for employees at all levels in the organisation. Many companies, including Sainsbury’s and Lloyds Bank, are taking steps to nurture role models from all levels of their company structure. Ensuring that staff have visible and accessible role models and mentors can encourage BAME staff to seek support in developing their careers.
Tackling Unconscious Bias Effectively
While many BAME workers face overt discrimination, there are also issues surrounding unconscious bias that need to be addressed in order to make workplaces more equitable. Unconscious bias involves a person acting favourably towards another due to a belief that they are similar. In the workplace, this can lead to employers hiring in their own image, rejecting more experienced and well-qualified candidates in the process. BAME communities are disproportionately affected by this due to absence of diversity in senior positions.
One of the main problems is that the term ‘unconscious bias’ is often used to attempt to excuse behaviour which demonstrates clear and easily-avoidable bias. The wider understanding of these issues has led to a significant increase in the availability of unconscious bias training. This allows employees to address their own prejudices, identify methods by which they can tackle their own bias and can contribute to a cultural change in companies’ hiring, training and promotion procedures.
How Collecting Data Can Improve the Statistics
Collecting data through diversity monitoring can be an important part of increasing diversity in workplaces. Businesses that take an active interest in the make-up of their workforce are best placed to promote and support their BAME staff. Collecting information about the number of BAME individuals working in an organisation allows businesses to be transparent about the makeup of their workforce, including details of how many top-level positions are filled by BAME individuals.
Businesses are also encouraged to develop policies on diversity, including aspirational targets and solid plans to increase their inclusivity. While this may be seen as some to be akin to ‘naming and shaming’, it is actually one of the most effective ways to scrutinise the relevant data and assess the effectiveness of their efforts. Committing to reporting on progress is one of the most effective ways to motivate companies to take decisive action within a specified timeframe.
Tackling the Problems Caused by Workplace Culture
One of the key factors in improving workplace culture is having an open and ongoing dialogue about the way that issues of race and ethnicity are tackled. When people feel uncomfortable discussing the problems faced by BAME individuals in the workplace, they are ill-placed to tackle them. Only 54% of HR managers and those responsible for diversity saying that they feel that the business leaders in their organisation are championing diversity effectively.
Under Tier 2 visa rules, non-EEA workers require a job offer from a sponsored employer to work in the UK. Once the Brexit transition period ends, EEA workers will also be subject to this requirement, making them more difficult to attract. As this will make the UK workforce even less diverse, it is imperative that companies do everything possible to promote diversity.
Considering that visibility is one of the cornerstones of a truly diverse workplace culture, maintaining open lines of communication is vital. Organisations should support their BAME workers in creating BAME networks where employees can have a forum to air their views and discuss their experiences. It’s also important to demonstrate the ‘fit’ of an employee within a business, ensuring that staff of all levels and backgrounds are aware of how important their contribution is. Further to this, employers should ensure that their public face is as welcoming as possible by promoting diversity online and in company literature.
By allowing the status quo to remain, businesses are not only denying BAME workers the opportunities that should be equally available to all individuals but also limiting their capacity to achieve economically. Estimates state that increased diversity in businesses could generate around £24 billion per year, so there can be no excuse for failing to address these issues.