BAME employees twice as likely to say discrimination holds back their careers

CIPD survey finds multiple barriers for minority staff, amid renewed calls for publication of race pay gaps 

Almost one in three black employees believes discrimination has been a factor in their lack of career progression – three times the number of white British staff who report facing the same issues, according to a new study.

In the report from the CIPD, among all black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees, 20 per cent said discrimination had been a factor in their career, compared to one in 10 white British colleagues.

The CIPD surveyed 1,290 UK employees, 700 of them with a BAME background. The results show that BAME employees face more barriers than other staff in progressing their careers, and actively want access to coaching, mentoring and other interventions they believe would help them advance. Dr Jill Miller, CIPD adviser and author of the survey, said the findings were “unacceptable” and urged action to avoid “having the same discussions in five years’ time”.

Significantly more BAME employees than white British employees said their career to date had failed to meet their expectations (40 per cent versus 31 per cent), in particular those with black (44 per cent) and mixed-race (42 per cent) backgrounds.

A senior role model like them in their organisation – and a greater diversity of people at senior levels – were cited by BAME employees as the most likely factors to aid their careers.

A quarter of BAME respondents whose organisation lacks mentors concluded that this would help them reach their working potential.

The CIPD urged policymakers to practically support race pay gap reporting, the transparency of which would focus attention, it said. But the government also needs to support employers and encourage them to take action to make lasting change, the study found. Employers need guidance to create more inclusive workplaces because “we’re reluctant to talk about race and employers may be uncertain of where to start or fearful that they might do the wrong thing”, the report said.

There is a long way to go, Miller added, “until we can say that equal access to progression opportunities exists regardless of ethnic background, and that discrimination is totally unacceptable”.

Frank Douglas, CEO at Caerus Executive, described the report as one of the most significant recent studies into the topic, and the first “aimed directly at those who pull the levers of change in inclusion and organisation culture” – the HR profession.

“The CIPD research – combined with recent reports such as the Parker review or McGregor-Smith, for example – provides a credible defence that any company that refuses to address and tackle the issues of BAME progression, retention and inclusion has done so not from a lack of a business case, but a lack of will.”

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, told People Management that she was not surprised by the results.

The report recommended that employers collect workforce data to identify the structural and cultural barriers maintaining workplace inequalities, and to establish principles that celebrate and encourage difference.

These measures should be part of the firm’s own objectives and cultures, according to Kerr – led from above, rather than from below. Not everyone said they had experienced discrimination but it was “hard to find people who haven’t”, she added.

To be effective, the approach must be nuanced, Miller said. “Organisations need to understand where the barriers to progression for different groups lie, and use this information to level the playing field and enable talented people to reach their potential at work.”

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, diversity campaigner and former CEO of Mitie Group, said the much-needed research showed that progress was slow and uneven. Knowledge of what was happening at all levels of the workforce is needed, she said: “What is clear is that data is king. Employers must have a better, evidence-based understanding of their workforce to be able to take effective action.”

She supported the call to publish pay gaps by race and pay band and ensure employers focus on the right problems.

“The HR profession has a central role in speeding up progress by ensuring that people management practices and organisation cultures are built on the principles of trust, equality, fairness and inclusion”, said McGregor-Smith. HR is “uniquely placed to address discrimination that we know still occurs – whether overt or through unconscious bias”. 

The report was equally scathing of the quality of line management in UK businesses. Around a third of those BAME (29 per cent) and white British (35 per cent) respondents who said their career progression to date had failed to meet their expectations cited poor line management at turning points in their career.

Only around two-fifths of respondents said their line manager discussed their training and development needs with them, while only half of respondents felt able to talk to their manager about their career aspirations.