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Third of ethnic minority workers have been unfairly turned down for a job, research suggests

19 Mar 2021 By Jessica Brown

Experts say findings are a ‘sad reflection’ of inequalities in recruitment as TUC study reveals BAME employees are more often overlooked for pay rises and promotions

One in three ethnic minority workers say they have been unfairly turned down for a job, compared to just one in five (19 per cent) white workers, according to new research by the TUC.

More ethnic minority workers also report being unfairly overlooked for a pay rise than their white counterparts (29 per cent compared to 22 per cent) or a promotion (28 per cent compared to 21 per cent). 

Ethnic minority staff are twice as likely to report being on insecure contracts, or being forced to reapply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions, according to the survey of more than 2,000 workers in November last year.



Previous analysis by the TUC earlier this year revealed that the unemployment rate for ethnic minority workers has risen at more than twice the rate of white workers, increasing almost two-thirds from 5.8 per cent to 9.5 per cent between the last quarter of 2019 and the last quarter of 2020. 

The TUC is calling on the government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting and make employers publish action plans, and to ban zero-hours contracts and strengthen the rights of insecure workers, which it says will have a positive impact on ethnic minority workers. 

General secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, said the pandemic had “shone a spotlight on the racism faced by BME workers around the country”.


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“Ministers must tackle the structural racism that exists within our economy – and wider society – once and for all.” 

Bayo Adelaja, chief executive of open innovation organisation Do it Now Now, says the TUC’s findings chime with what the organisation has heard anecdotally. 

“Over time we have seen young black people’s careers thwarted by unfathomable decisions made by higher-ups in their organisations. They are overlooked and unsupported to progress. 

“These talented individuals often find themselves in entrepreneurship as a way to circumvent the institutional racism they have faced that has stopped them from succeeding in the careers they envisioned themselves working in for many years to come. 

“Employers must hold themselves accountable for trends that show racial bias in their promotions processes and adopt revised policies that reflect the realities of their organisation. 

“All managers must engage in unconscious bias training that provides them with the tools and practices to step outside of their biases to make decisions that are right rather than comfortable.” 

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, said the survey’s findings were a “sad reflection of the racial inequalities that persist in recruitment today”. 

“These findings should signal to employers that this is a problem they cannot ignore. Employers must make ethnic diversity part of their criteria for candidate assessment and selection panels. Only then we will see a step forward in removing bias from the recruitment process.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, added: “Levels of in-work poverty are disproportionately higher in BME communities, as racial discrimination traps BME workers in low-waged occupations. 

“We need robust and urgent action to tackle racism in the labour market. The root causes, rather than the outcomes of poverty and decades of systemic discrimination, must be considered and addressed.”

Moira Campbell, senior associate at Kingsley Napley, said the findings “provide clear statistical evidence that significant change is required in order to tackle structural racial inequality in the workplace”. 

“In order to achieve necessary improvements, employers are advised to ensure leaders are visible and vocal BAME allies, have clear and transparent policies and procedures in place which promote diversity and inclusion and a culture of zero tolerance of prejudice.  

“They’re advised to ensure these policies are followed in recruitment, pay review and promotion processes, train and educate all staff, including managers and those with responsibility for recruitment on the importance of diversity and inclusion, implement visible and accessible support networks, and check in with staff by conducting surveys and polls to gain feedback on what additional action can be taken to better support BAME employees.”

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