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Opportunities in HR unequal feel BAME HRs

A disconnect exists between BAME and white HR professionals’ perceptions of racial equality within their profession, according to exclusive research by HR magazine

Our reader survey sought to explore perceptions of whether there is equal opportunity to progress in HR for all ethnicities, and HR professionals’ level of comfort tackling racial discrimination within the wider workforce.

It found that while 34% of white British and white non-British HR professionals felt there were definitely equal progression opportunities for all ethnicities in HR, only 3% of BAME HR professionals agreed. Additionally, 60% of BAME HR professionals said opportunities to progress were definitely not equal, compared to 4% of white professionals.

A significant barrier identified by the BAME HR professionals HR magazine surveyed was senior HR professionals' unconscious bias, cited by 67%. Only 27% of white professionals identified this as a barrier to progression for their BAME colleagues.

White HR professionals also seemed to underestimate how large a factor both lack of confidence and lack of opportunities could be for BAME HR professioanals. Nearly half (47%) of BAME HRs surveyed cited lack of opportunities, compared to just 9% of their white counterparts. Meanwhile 30% of BAME HRs cited lack of confidence, but only 14% of white HR professionals recognised this as a barrier.

Speaking to HR magazine for our May cover story on the topic, founder of HR Hero for Hire and former HR and OD director at Islamic Relief Worldwide Shakil Butt highlighted the ethnic diversity issue the profession still faces in the UK. CIPD data shows that while BAME representation is 18% at junior level, this drops to 11% at mid level and 7% at senior.

“At the HRD Summit conference this year, where I spent two days, I saw one black person and three Asian people. And that’s meant to be the most senior HR professionals,” he said. “So if at that highest level we don’t have the representation then how are we meant to be doing that for the business?

“I thought: should I start an #HRSoWhite hashtag?” he added, in reference to the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag started by activist April Reign in 2015.

The barrier identified most by both white and BAME respondents overall in the survey was unconscious bias on the part of senior non-HR professionals (cited by 46%).

CIPD membership director David D’Souza highlighted the challenge of it being non-HR professionals often making hiring decisions when it comes to HRDs: “The challenge we have is that as a professional body there are certainly things we can influence, but influencing hiring decisions for HRDs in organisations? We’re not involved in those calls at the point of them being made.”

D’Souza recognised there was more for the CIPD and the profession as a whole to do on race. But he highlighted that the body has “probably done more than people are aware of”.

Unconscious bias in the profession at all levels was also cited as a barrier by a large proportion (41%) of all respondents.

The results also uncovered a disconnect between how widespread overt conscious racism was perceived to be for those in the wider workforce. Only 3% of white HR professioansl identified this as a barrier to improving racial equality at their organisation, compared to 20% of BAME respondents.

When it came to the effectiveness of their HR team’s efforts to tackle racism and racial discrimination in the wider workforce there was another disconnect in perceptions. While 69% of white HR professionals surveyed felt HR’s efforts on race equality at their organisation were as strong as in other areas of D&I, only 25% of BAME respondents agreed. Forty-three per cent of this latter group said efforts were significantly behind other areas of D&I, compared to only 8% of white respondents.

In answer to the question ‘does your organisation have a D&I lead who actively leads on racial awareness and/or discrimination?’ 63% of respondents overall stated not. Asked if their organisation measures HR metrics around ethnicity – such as starters, leavers and ER cases – 25% said not at all and 24% said to a limited extent; 65% said such metrics weren’t made public.

In terms of improving racial equality for the wider workforce at their organisation, the top barriers cited by BAME and white HR professionals taken together were unconscious bias at a senior level (cited by 39%), unconscious bias at junior levels (26%), nervousness among leaders at saying the wrong thing (also 26%), lack of resource (25%), lack of time (20%) and lack of senior buy-in (19%).

The survey also revealed that white professionals felt more confident calling out racially discriminatory behaviour among colleagues than their BAME counterparts. It found that 58% of white HR professionals feel very confident here, compared to 37% of BAME.

This concurs with research by co-founder and senior partner at Pearn Kandola Binna Kandola, for his book Racism at Work: The Danger of Indifference. It found that 37% of white people confronted the perpetrator of a racist act, compared to just 25% of Asian and 27% of black people.

Racism is like a virus that has mutated and become much more subtle and oblique,” said Kandola, speaking to HR magazine for May's cover piece. “These more subtle forms are more difficult to argue against… it’s ignoring people, not acknowledging their contribution, not inviting them to speak…”

In terms of whether ethnicity pay gap reporting could be helpful in addressing issues of racial inequality in UK workplaces, 55% of BAME respondents stated ‘very’ compared to 13% white. This latter group were more likely to respond ‘not very’ (27%) than their BAME counterparts (10%).

To gain more insight into this issue check back online to read HR magazine’s May cover piece, to be published on www.hrmagazine.co.uk soon. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk in print form