Research conducted by global management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to see financial returns above the industry average. Yet findings from The Parker Review of November 2016, show that while 14% of the UK population identify as black or as belonging to an ethnic minority, only 1.5% of directors in FTSE 100 boardrooms are UK citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds. And, over half the FTSE 100 boards are exclusively white.
Ethnic minorities are still underrepresented in the workplace
“One in four children in primary and secondary school education in the UK are from an ethnic minority background,” says Kerr, revealing that this number decreases to one in eight when you look at the working age population, and again to one in 16 when you assess people in senior positions. Kerr describes this current representation of ethnic minorities as a pyramid which should really look more like a square: “The one in four of the younger population – that’s the workforce of the future. They’re the community which policy-makers make policies for, that companies make products for… there’s a real need for workplaces to reflect what the population looks like,” she insists.
History, education and lack of role models all play a part
Kerr is chair of the Trustee Board for Elevation Networks, an award-winning youth employment charity which seeks to develop the leadership potential of young people and increase their employability. Kerr believes history, the education system and lack of role models are all jointly responsible for the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the workplace.
“Some of the challenges we had in the marketplace are because of occupational segregation,” she says. “Lack of progression and role models in some industries contribute to why (workplaces) don’t have representation of ethnic minorities.”
Through her research, Kerr has found that there tends to be an underrepresentation of black (particularly) and Asian employees at leadership levels. This, she believes, leads back to education. “More diverse teachers as role models for the students is really important,” she says, going on to suggest that there should be standard, comprehensive models of diversity awareness training for teachers before they start work: “They should have unconscious bias training, too, so that when they’re engaging with the children they’re not bringing any biases to the classroom.”
Part of Kerr’s work involves encouraging employers to engage with education, either through offering volunteering opportunities in their workforce or partnering with a school, particularly one with a diverse population. Kerr believes we need: “more business engagement with schools (and) more mentoring.” This would, she says, allow pupils to gain insight into the different career opportunities available. Work experience not only gives young people something to put on their CV, it builds their confidence, Kerr explains. “There are so many skills you could learn earlier on which would help you survive (in the workplace).”
Recruiting a diverse workforce
Kerr believes that a company’s workforce, including the talent pool feeding into it, should reflect the demographic of the local population. In order to help companies, Business in the Community uses a diversity benchmark to show how businesses in the same sector compare diversity-wise. “The benchmark process shows us that sometimes, companies are getting enough applications from diverse backgrounds but actually (these people) don’t get through,” says Kerr. The benchmark process also shows that, at other times, companies aren’t attracting people from diverse backgrounds at all.
According to Kerr, it’s the responsibility of a company to monitor the stages of the recruitment process, and think about what percentage of people from different backgrounds they hope to see coming through. This, Kerr explains, will highlight for companies whether they need more help encouraging diversity in their workplace. “Monitor attraction, monitor applications, monitor at interview stage,” she says, stressing that companies should ensure recruiters supply them with a diverse shortlist for roles and try to ensure their internal recruitment panel is also diverse. In terms of education, rather than looking to the same Russell Group universities to supply graduates, “employers should reach out to a wider set of universities where the ethnic minority populations actually are,” advises Kerr, who encourages employers to take unconscious bias or cultural awareness training, to help avoid the all-too-common phenomenon of recruiting mini-me’s.
How to tackle racial discrimination in the workplace
In order to tackle racial discrimination in the workplace, Kerr suggests two strategies. First mediation, whereby you talk to the perpetrator, and second, making a formal complaint. “It’s very painful to relive,” says Kerr, but: “if you can catch it early…resentment doesn’t get a chance to build.” If you choose to make a formal complaint, Kerr recommends finding someone to talk through your situation with first, whether that’s a line manager, an HR professional, a trade union representative or a friend. She also stresses that making a complaint doesn’t necessarily resolve feelings, and it is therefore important to use support networks too. “You’ve got to find a way to get over it,” she says. From an employer point of view, Kerr recommends making it obvious, particularly to new managers, that racial discrimination isn’t tolerated. “I’m from a proactive culture which says ‘no, we’re not doing that here’,” she says. This way, you can start to build up a culture free from racial discrimination.
Is racial equality in the workplace likely to improve?
Kerr worked for the Cabinet Office from 1990 – 2003, advising on diversity policies across race, disability, gender and work-life balance. She believes we’ve come a long way since then, but there’s still more to do: “We’re not necessarily comfortable talking about race but at least there’s an acknowledgement that we need to start discussing it… in the future I’d like to see us be a nation that really values difference and appreciates it, embraces it and is not afraid of it,” says Kerr, who believes better representation of minority groups in the workplace is a good way to start. “World peace,” she adds, with a wry chuckle.