Mind the (Ethnicity Pay) Gap
A month after the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in the United States, the spotlight remains firmly on the injustices faced worldwide by Black people (and other ethnic minorities). While law enforcement and the criminal justice systems in the US and UK have come under particular scrutiny, there is also a focus on structural racism and wider socioeconomic disparities.
Systemic inequalities can be found across all important areas of life, such as healthcare, education and housing. As an Employment lawyer, my focus is the job market.
The most recent government statistics show that 77% of white people were in employment, compared with just 65% of people from all other ethnic groups combined. In every ethnic group, women were less likely to be employed than men.
These statistics are unsurprising, as a study carried out in recent years by Nuffield College, University of Oxford showed that the level of discrimination faced by Black and South Asian British people had not changed for almost half a century. The study, which involved sending out almost 3,200 fictitious CVs, showed that ethnic minorities with identical skills and experience to their white counterparts need to send on average 60% more applications in order to receive the same number of positive responses. For some groups, such as those with Nigerian heritage, this figure can be as high as 80%. Contrary to the popular myth that the UK is somehow less racist than other countries, the UK showed the highest level of discrimination among the five European countries that took part in the study.
Many UK organisations have released statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, or to state a commitment to equality and diversity generally, yet structural racism remains, including within employment. A statement is not enough, as structural racism by its very nature requires a conscious, on-going effort to dismantle. So what can be done to help employers “walk the walk” and take positive action to remove the barriers to recruitment and employment which those from BAME communities face? We have put some ideas here, and while this is by no means an exhaustive list, they may provide a good starting point.
If your organisation is serious about equality and diversity in the recruitment process, where better to start than by looking at the groups carrying out the recruitment functions? Building a diverse HR team, and ensuring that recruitment panels reflect the diversity of talent you want to attract to the business, may make the organisation less vulnerable to the “groupthink” that can result in recruiting candidates that are overly alike. From the opposite angle, if your recruitment teams are noticeably homogenous, consider the message that this sends to ethnic minorities who are applying to join you, or would otherwise apply to join you.
Many employers invest time and money in improving diversity in senior recruits and more formal processes, such as graduate recruitment. However, these efforts can be easily undermined if other roles (such as for work experience or temporary workers) are not subject to the same rigour. This more informal pipeline of talent is often overlooked, but can be a vital factor in the make-up of an organisation’s workforce in the longer-term and in prospective applicants’ opportunities to enhance their careers.
Training in equality, diversity and inclusion is a common tool used by organisations in an effort to improve recruitment and employment practices, and should be done regularly at all levels. However, training on its own is not a cure for structural inequality. It needs to be complemented and enhanced by an inclusive culture, policies and practices which support equality and diversity, otherwise the benefits will be limited. Unconscious bias training is particularly valuable for anyone involved in recruitment, for example, but employers should also invest in systems which reduce the opportunity for bias such as “blind” CV applications, standardised interviewing practices and monitoring processes.
It can be tempting for employers to attribute a lack of diversity to the fact that they simply do not receive as many applications from particular groups or ethnic minorities. Many employers also point the finger at inequalities earlier on in life, such as the barriers ethnic minorities face when applying for top universities, which can have a knock-on effect on the apparent strength of applications. These explanations are rapidly becoming less acceptable, especially in relation to larger organisations with sizeable recruitment budgets. Employers need to consider how their recruitment practices affect the applications they receive, for example, whether they are advertising in the right places and in a way which does not discourage ethnic minorities from applying. Internal controls can also be put in place to ensure candidates are not compared in an unfair way with those from more privileged backgrounds.
Organisations have more choice than ever before in relation to outsourcing parts of the recruitment process, and it is important to consider these as well as in conjunction with the existing internal structures. Employers can use recruitment agencies which specialise in recruiting diversely, for example. At the very least, employers should be performing due diligence on potential agents to ensure they have a good track record in this respect. Employers should also be cautious when using algorithms or artificial intelligence systems to sift applications, as there is growing evidence to show that these systems inherit biases against Black people and other minorities.
Investing properly in recruitment takes time and money, but employers that do so are likely to find that this investment pays off in the longer term. Good recruitment processes not only help to promote greater equality and diversity in employment and reduce the risk of exposure to discrimination claims (as job applicants are also protected under the Equality Act 2010), but there is also evidence that they – and the diverse workforce they result in - make organisations more attractive to applicants. Employers with such practices are therefore better placed to attract the best candidates from a much wider talent pool.
Catherine is an associate in our Employment team. She often advises individual clients who are going through difficult circumstances at work, guiding them through disciplinary and grievance processes and, where appropriate, negotiating an exit.
Özlem is a Professional Support Lawyer in our Employment Team. She is very experienced in giving training talks on topical employment law issues and, as a member of the Employment Lawyers' Association (ELA), has participated in preparing ELA’s response to Government consultations on various issues.
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