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It's time to talk about race at work

Business in the Community has launched the largest ever survey of race at work in the UK in partnership with YouGov

Business in the Community has launched the largest ever survey of race at work in the UK in partnership with YouGov. They want to hear from 10,000 people aged 16 and over who are in work across the UK.

The purpose is to help us better understand why BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) groups are under-represented in the workplace and inform recommendations for faster change. The survey is open until Sunday 13 September at www.raceatwork.org.uk.

We know that BAME people are under-represented at every level of work. Only one in 16 senior leadership positions are held by someone from an ethnic minority, despite there being a pool of one in eight ethnic minority people of working age in the UK.

Our benchmark analysis shows that BAME employees are less likely to be rated in the top two performance categories, to be identified as ‘high potential’, or to be selected for leadership training. The data also highlights a significant drop-off in the rate of BAME candidates progressing from application to hire in the recruitment process compared to white candidates.

The questions employers need to answer are ‘why?’ and ‘what can we do to ensure cultures and processes are equal, fair and inclusive to all employees?’.

The ‘why’ is a combination of policies and processes unintentionally excluding certain groups, and that unconscious bias could be having an impact on decision-making – particularly for individuals responsible for recruitment, progression and pay decisions.

We worked with the University of Manchester to analyse global online racial bias test data and found that 66% of top executives in the UK have a racial bias. This was lower than top executives in the USA and Europe – yet still highlights that tackling bias needs proactive leadership.

We know that everyone has biases of some kind. What’s needed is for individuals to identify and understand their own biases and be aware of how they might be affecting everyday interactions and decision-making.

The ‘what can we do’ question requires in-depth understanding of where gaps in ethnicity representation are in each business. While there is no quick fix, there are proven mechanisms that employers can implement. Some include: monitoring workforce data, as without this data it is impossible to action plan for change; a senior leader sponsoring race and diversity; and unconscious bias training for anyone involved in selection, developing of HR policy and process, key decision-making and line management – and then ensuring regular refresher modules. Also where possible we recommend including BAME people at each stage of recruitment, assessment and promotion processes.

Even with bias being addressed and mechanisms in place there can be a third, often unspoken, challenge: employers may find it difficult to talk about race at work.

Our analysis of the online racial test data found that people in the UK are more interested in testing their racial bias than their age, sexuality or gender bias. Forty per cent of them were prompted to take the test by news and media, but just 9.7% were encouraged to take part by their employer. This suggests that Britons do want to talk about race.

What can HR directors do? We need businesses to create an environment that enables open conversations with employees about race. I encourage you to complete the survey and share the link with colleagues, networks and anyone else who might be interested – use it to kickstart these conversations.

Take part at www.raceatwork.org.uk so we can move from debate to action.

Sandra Kerr is race equality director at Business in the Community