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Racial inequality affects the UK economy in many ways – but HR can change that

30 Nov 2020 By Claudine Charles and Geoffrey Williams

Even small actions by businesses and people professionals can help the world become a fairer place, say Claudine Charles and Geoffrey Williams

Globally, there have been associations made between a child’s basic needs not being met and their ability to function effectively. These links have been cited in sociology, social care journals and publications for years, and validate footballer Marcus Rashford's campaign for free meals during school holidays. A lack of basic societal, physiological and psychological needs lead to poor academic performance and attainment. This then impacts the possibility of these young members of society gaining a lucrative job in adult life, although there are obvious anomalies. 

The knock-on effect is that these young people then contribute less to the economy as a consumer as adults. Even more so, they’re less likely to become an employer themselves who in turn hires employees who also add to the economy.

In the UK, there have been discussions for years about the ‘worklessness’ epidemic in parts of the country and it’s still on the agenda. There are generations of families who have never had a job; they simply go ‘on the dole’ when they leave school. Reports suggest that worklessness is down to poor health and disability, and this is apparent in many cases. However, my [Charles] time working in social housing revealed that some families don’t feel that their social group is intended to gain meaningful employment. They believe that employment is not intended for people like themselves, as well as a number of other psychological and societal factors that hold them back from seeking employment. 

With the country edging its way into a recession and with many struggling for work, it feels as though worklessness and societal inequality should have been addressed years ago. 

Turning to race inequality’s impact, in the US, it was reported that if racial equality was achieved 40 years ago, it would have added $16trn to its economy. According to a McKinsey study, if the gap were closed today it would add $5tn of GDP growth over the next five years. 

Even in the UK, an independent government review by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith found that the UK economy would be £24bn better off if BAME employees were able to progress throughout their careers at the same pace as their white colleagues.  

These reports encouraged us both to reflect that we need racial equality and more opportunities for contributors across every strand. We need fewer people in roles that don't meet their needs, that don’t match their educational attainment or potential to raise our economic success. This creates a better country and economy for us all. It feels like the holy grail, but it would be life changing if racial equality and fairness prevailed. Imagine the day when people are hired, promoted and developed based on what they add to a business, where we organically increase diversity in all strands in organisations, creating a competitive advantage to UK business, leading to more innovation, diversity of thought and business success rather than a business world solely based on tradition, sentiment and often fear.  

So how can we as HR professionals apply our influence to contribute to societal changes? As always, change begins from inception in our schools and colleges, but UK businesses can support this. Imagine if every child was not only given all the basic necessities but they were expected and encouraged to succeed regardless of their background and personal characteristics. Programmes like this have been put in place in certain areas of the country, such as Welwyn Garden City, to support children and their parents. There are coaching programmes in schools that are supporting parents to parent better, teaching them how to feed their children and supporting young people to manage their aggression, as evidence found that those were the issues within that particular area of the country. Similar programmes should be widespread across the UK, assessed and based on the demographic needs of the group. Schools across the country need to support children with other needs beyond gaining an education to support change. 

As HR professionals, we can directly influence change through how we recruit, develop and promote based on true value and culture add. Recruitment based on the best in class; strong recruitment processes that are more accessible to all with more breadth. 

We can address our expectations of our employees, and the messages that we give them, in terms of their contribution to the business. In an earlier article, we mentioned how using analytics and statistics, even if the data set is tiny, can support our efforts. 

How HR graduate teams partner with schools and colleges across the entire country can also be improved. Outdated practices where organisations only consider graduate applicants from Russell Group universities is still widespread in a number of global organisations.

We can influence and address how our companies partner and advocate at government level to share their vision for racial inequality in the workforce, as well as how they support small business and enterprises more strategically. 

And of course, as always we can influence through self-reflection and addressing our personal bias, beliefs and attitudes and advocating programmes to influence our hiring managers.

This solution is colossal, but every organisation can break it down into something that’s attainable. HR plays a key role in creating these environments, building solid, inclusive cultures where businesses identify and hire those who will truly help them to achieve a competitive advantage especially on the global stage, deliver on their strategic objectives and boost business results.

Some may argue that the world is based on the survival of the fittest but, if we first advocate for racial equality and make this a fairer fight to build the UK economy, we will see what happens. What's more, how has global oppression and inequality helped us so far? It doesn't feel as though it's worked in our favour as a human race. Maybe we need to change our tactics.  

Claudine Charles is founder and director of Blended Learning Studio, and Geoffrey Williams is founding director of GOW

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