BAME employees’ ambition met with discrimination: CIPD survey

Upskilling line managers could help boost the career progression of employees from Black, Asian and minority ethic (BAME) backgrounds, suggests a new report from the CIPD.

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A new study of 1,200 UK employees by the professional body for HR and people development finds 29% of Black employees say discrimination has played a part in a lack of career progression to date.Across BAME employees as a whole, one in five (20%) said discrimination had played a part in a lack of career progression.Both figures are two to three times that for White British employees (11%), and while significantly more BAME employees than White British employees regard career progression as an important part of their working life (25% versus 10%). 

Creating fair opportunities for all in the workplace

Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said: “Discrimination is totally unacceptable – everyone has the right to bring their whole selves to work without fear of prejudice or victimisation and employers have a duty to provide a workplace that delivers that."There is clearly still a long way to go until we can say that equal access to progression opportunities exists regardless of ethnic background.“Progress is crucial, and some of the fundamentals of business need to change to avoid having this conversation again in five years’ time.”

Need for more BAME role models

Asked what would improve their career progression, BAME employees were much more likely than white British employees to say seeing people like them who have progressed in the organisation and a greater diversity of people at senior levels in their organisation would help energise their career progression.Additionally, the survey found a quarter of BAME respondents (23%) said working for organisations that provided mentoring would help them achieve their potential at work. 
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Line managers critical to BAME employees’ progression

Around a third of BAME and White British respondents (29% and 35%) saying their career progression has failed to meet their expectations also report experiencing poor-quality line management at key points in their career.Significantly low line manager support for career development is an issue across the board, regardless of ethnicity, found the CIPD study, Barriers to BAME employee career progression.Only around two-fifths of all respondents (43% BAME and 39% White British) say their line manager discusses training and development needs with them.  
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Just half of employees across BAME and white British groups also feel able to talk to their manager about their career aspirations (53% and 52%), while only around two-fifths of respondents across BAME and white British groups say their manager understands their career aspirations (41% and 40%).“Line managers have a significant influence on person’s career through the opportunities they afford members of their team, the coaching and training they provide, and the development conversations they have,’ said Dr Miller. "Organisations need to invest much more in the development of line managers, and help them to understand the needs of each team member to provide the appropriate development support.”

More inclusion, fairness and transparency in workplace structures

Continued Dr Miller: “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. “They mustn’t forget though that different minority ethnic groups are facing different obstacles and that many of us have multiple and overlapping social identities, so it’s important not to assume that one solution will remove progression barriers for all.“Inclusion, fairness and transparency need to be at the heart of workplace cultures. HR has a key role to play in helping organisations to understand this, driving change through the unique insight it has about the workforce, its makeup, and by questioning existing workplace structures and culture.”

Data gathering and evidence underpin transparency

Also commenting on the survey’s findings, Baroness McGregor-Smith CBE, who led a government review into the issues faced by businesses in developing Black and minority ethnic (BME) talent commented: “This CIPD research sheds much needed light on the barriers to in-work progression for BAME indiiduals. Progress is being made, but it is slow and uneven.“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."I believe publishing pay gaps by race and pay band will improve transparency and will ensure that employers are focusing on the right problems and taking appropriate action. We also need to be showcasing those organisations who are making substantial progress to embolden others to follow.“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. HR is also uniquely placed to address discrimination that we know still occurs, whether overt or through unconscious bias. I welcome the CIPD’s commitment to taking forward this agenda with its members and to support employers more widely to drive sustainable change in their organisations.”

Practical advice on boosting BAME representation at senior levels

The guide makes the following recommendations for employers:
  • Understand what is happening in your organisation – collect workforce data to identify the structural and cultural barriers that maintain workplace inequalities
  • Think beyond policies – policies alone won’t bring about change, they need to be underpinned by principles that celebrate and encourage difference
  • Actively encourage employee voice – it’s essential that disadvantaged and disconnected groups have access to mechanisms to express their voice, such as employee resource groups that work with the organisation
It also makes recommendations for policymakers:
  • Provide practical support for race pay gap reporting – the transparency achieved through data reporting will undoubtedly focus attention, but government needs to support employers and encourage them to take action to make lasting change
  • Develop guidance for employer action to create more inclusive workplaces – 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
  • Advocate and support better-quality people management practice – people management is poor across the board, regardless of ethnicity, so government needs to nudge and support employers to improve their capabilities in this area.
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