Ethnic divide over job satisfaction, report warns

Black graduates more likely to be unhappy in their careers than white peers, with experts urging employers to listen carefully and find out ‘what’s really going on’

Black graduates are significantly less likely to be satisfied with their career than their white counterparts, according to a study by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

Its report, Higher education outcomes: How career satisfaction among graduates varies by ethnicity, analysed 111,950 graduates several years after completing their studies, and revealed that black African and black Caribbean graduates were 6.3 and 7.9 percentage points less likely to be content in their work than white graduates respectively.

This gap was even wider among older graduates. When looking only at those aged 26 and over when they entered higher education, black African graduates were 14.3 percentage points less likely to be satisfied with their careers than their white counterparts, and black Caribbean graduates 12.5 percentage points less.

The report, which looked at how people who graduated in 2010-11 and 2012-13 fared in the workplace three and a half years after finishing their studies, found that a significant gap between black and white graduates remained even after allowing for variables such as prior qualifications and subject studied.

When controlled for these differences, black African and black Caribbean graduates aged 25 or under when they entered higher education were 2.6 percentage points less likely to be satisfied with their careers than white peers in the equivalent age group. This gap increased to around 9 percentage points among those aged 26 or over.

The report added there were “statistically significant differences by ethnic group – even after controlling for a comprehensive set of covariates that include personal/study characteristics, various outcomes from higher education and graduate views on their university experience”. But it said more research was needed on the factors that might explain these differences.

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Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion policy adviser at the CIPD, commented that the HESA data placed “a spotlight on the importance of tackling inequalities in our education system and in the workplace”. She called on the government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay reporting, arguing it would “help shine a light on race inequalities, including progression and pay, and galvanise employer action to address these”.

Sandra Kerr CBE, race director at Business in the Community (BITC) and one of 20 to feature on People Management’s inaugural D&I Power List in July this year, said she was “sadly… not surprised by these results”, which followed the release of BITC’s own research showing that black employees were more ambitious than their white counterparts, but faced more barriers at work. “What graduate would be happy with a potential career barrier like that?” she asked.

Kerr added that most of the time these experiences were not the result of deliberate discrimination. “Often, leaders aren’t even aware that there is such an unequal experience among their workforce. As a first step, they need to listen carefully to what’s really going on,” she said. 

“They can do this by opening up big conversations across the organisation, raising up black role models by actively sponsoring black talent and setting targets to increase representation of black people at a senior level.”

Suki Sandhu, founder and CEO of INvolve, and who also featured on People Management’s D&I Power List, said the HESA’s findings highlighted a wider issue of many companies not being fully inclusive. “This means that many ethnic minority employees have greater obstacles to progression, and are often not given the equal opportunity to prove themselves when compared to white colleagues,” he said.

“You only need to look at the absence of senior black leaders in UK business to understand why black graduates might not feel that their career path will be able to follow their aspirations.”

Sandhu argued employers needed to collect data on the progression of all talent “and ask themselves the difficult questions as to why employees from diverse backgrounds are dropping behind or not being successfully retained”.