“If I look like you, I will support you”: Ethnic Minority Graduates Job Market Access in London

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A small group of UK’s Minority Graduates met recently for a roundtable discussion that was straightforward and suggestive. On September 25, NIAS hosted a roundtable discussion on When Qualifications Aren’t Enough: Job Market Outcomes/Experiences of Britain’s Ethnic Minority Graduates.

Blog Post SaritaThe discussion of racial and ethnic diversity in the job market is a part of the larger discussion of race in the United Kingdom. For the participants in this discussion, the experiences were sometimes difficult and uncomfortable. Some dialogues were academic in nature and many of them were personal and subjective.
“If I look like you, I will support you. If I know you and I am close to you then I will support you. If you are a stranger I have no responsibility to do anything for you. That’s the society. We have to pay attention to what the environment requires from us”; expressed one of our discussants (a Goldsmiths alumnus coming from a British minority community).
What followed later was an interesting discussion where we shared and express openly about why diversity really matters, what steps can be taken and suggested questions for participants to consider and contribute their ideas.
Our roundtable discussion looked at the impact of the current political and economic climate on efforts to increase diversity and considered what messages the sector should be communicating to funding bodies and the government about the issue. We stressed on ways to foster higher work opportunities mainly among minority candidates.
Our Aim
To explore how minority candidates can be supported to access, stay and progress in work
To engage with those minority graduates who are seeking work and to encourage those already in work to sustain and earn more
We are, however, committed to generating a balanced explanation of the problem and to that end; we have included the following suggestions keeping in mind the difficulties minority graduates face in the job market.
Create Mentorship Programmes
Mentoring provides minority graduates an entrance into a world of unwritten rules and etiquettes they are otherwise not aware of. Mentors can empower minority students with the resources and access necessary for navigating the climate of the premium employment world. Additionally, open dialogues about race, bias and racism between mentor and mentee can pave the way for greater understanding and appreciation of differing worldviews.
In Britain, there have been several mentorship programmes for almost two decades from small to large organizations; yet available data says something different regarding their success.
A majority of our participants suggested how important having a mentor would be to their career advancement.
Apprenticeships are a bridge between education and work. They provide the opportunity for young people to gain work experience while getting a qualification, and working towards a career. Similarly, for employers they are a chance to recruit highly-motivated staff and train them to develop the skills their industries need.
The participants highlighted the fact that apprenticeship opportunities are being missed by minority students due to a lack of information within the communities. They appealed for the voluntary sector to lead the way by becoming gateways for young BAME people to access apprenticeship.
The minimum wage for an apprentice is only 2.73GBP.The National Minimum Wage rate for apprentices will increase by 57p (20%) from £2.73 to £3.30 per hour from October 2015. Therefore, many minority job aspirants are reluctant to join apprenticeship. It seems that the government is spending less on average apprenticeship, which suggests that as the numbers go up, they are getting shorter. The key point being taken forward from our discussions was that government agencies, the voluntary sector, employers, and training providers need to work much better in collaboration to promote apprenticeships locally.
Create Networking Opportunities
Networking opportunities play a vital role in the progress and development of employees; particularly for those from minority backgrounds. A range of programmes have been set up to connect people to the workplace by providing information, training and support through personal advisers. However, minority job aspirants are not getting full benefits from those schemes.
‘‘Qualifications are not enough in society. It’s your experience and networking skills together with those qualifications that count’’; expressed one of our panellists. Most minority students socially don’t mix with middle-class English who happen to be the main employer class where networking is essential. If you are to get a good job, especially in the private sector you have to understand the culture of the workplace”. He further emphasized the issues many minorities have in accessing wider networks than just their friends and family, and the need for younger generation of minorities to develop persistence and confidence.
Small businesses, including entrepreneurship, are often seen as a good way to draw minorities into the economic mainstream. Although figures of ethnic minority self-employment are high, minority businesses often remain small and have relatively high failure rates. Part of the reason may be that existing minority businesses are not getting proper business advice services and financial support for start-up businesses. Besides, if you’re a minority seeking investment, the likelihoods aren’t weighted in your favor. To recognise potential gains much remains to be learned about how best to help aspiring entrepreneurs, regardless of race or ethnic background.
For a minority job aspirant, volunteering can be a great way to learn new skills and build on existing ones. Generally, people from less privileged background are less likely to volunteer. This may be because they can’t afford to be left out of pocket. It is seen that there is limited culture of volunteering among the BAME communities.
Dialogues on Diversity
Despite several improvements in race relations and equal opportunities in the workplace over the past two decades, racial discrimination and harassment still persist. There is a case to be made for further research on the culture of the workplace ,recruitment and retention of minority ethnic candidates.
While recruiting efforts are crucial for increasing the participation of minorities, it is equally important that those already in the workforce be sustained. The workplace in Britain is not welcoming for minorities. Understanding the rules of the workplace is a must for minority employees. The development of a truly multicultural work environment that values gender/race/ethnic differences, and the eradication of institutional practices that sideline minorities are two most important steps necessary for improving Britain’s workplace culture. There is a need to deepen our understanding of sustenance issues for minorities in order to advise intervention strategies.
Emigration to other parts of the world can be a good option for many minority job aspirants. ‘‘If one can get an affordable house , a lower cost of living and a better job where a British education can set him apart, I think he must consider that opportunity”, commented one of our panellists.
Our roundtable discussants identified many obstacles to achieving equality for minorities in UK’s job market and provided recommendations for overcoming those obstacles. The challenges identified below were individually and frequently identified by our participants as the most daunting obstacles to equal employment opportunities for mi
Obstacle 1
Unconscious bias and preconceptions about minorities still play a substantial role in occupation decisions in Britain. Our participants stated that discrimination today are more subtle and can often be directly attributable to unconscious bias.
Obstacle 2
British minorities lack adequate mentoring and networking opportunities for higher level and management positions.
Obstacle 3
Inadequate training and development perpetuate inequalities in skills and opportunities for British Minority graduates.
Obstacle 4
Equality regulations and laws are not adequately scrutinized by organisations and are not efficiently enforced.
A detailed study into how these particular obstacles affect British minority graduates would be helpful to determine what actions can be taken to address the problems. Particularly, in-depth research is needed in the area of unconscious bias in order to determine its prevalence and impacts on job sector and how minority graduates and organisations can work together to address the problem. Without coordinated, deliberate intervention at the policy level, the outlook for their economic future is very bleak indeed.
On one hand, there is an incredibly high level of Institutional racism and, on the other hand, there are a lot of opportunities in Britain’s current job market. Why are there not enough minorities in Britain’s workforce? What’s the recruiting process? How to find spaces for minorities? That’s what we need to focus on, rather than the discourse around numbers.
The majority of the participants’ suggestions fell into two broad categories:
  • Reforming employment and recruitment practices; and
  • Developing alternative entry routes to the job sector
There was a consensus among participants that the sector needed to consider taking a broader approach to diversifying the workforce. The sector needs to start looking at organisational culture change and what needs to be done to make that happen.
We proposed that the minority graduates must try all possible options to utilise their potentials in the job market. Those minority candidates who are already in work must try to sustain it and to help those in a more difficult situation. This led to a wider discussion on the possibility of mapping out where new jobs are emerging and whether to consider moving to these areas.
We acknowledge that institutional racism does exist, regardless of its intent and extent. Institutional racism is not about we-versus-them, or you-versus-me, but instead it’s a collective upshot to be analyzed and critiqued collectively by an organization. The question is not, “What are we doing wrong?” but instead, “How can we change our outcomes?”
Our main outcome is that, outside Government, there are responsibilities for ethnic minority communities themselves, particularly in areas such as relationships between educational institutes, employers, mentors and communities. Besides, the ever-increasing roles played by voluntary sectors and community organisations indicate the underlying potential for fresh and innovative forms of partnership in this area.
However convincing the rationale for Government action might be, it is clear that there are obligations on a range of stakeholders to tackle the issues raised by these discussions. BAME participants have a role to play in lobbying the Government. Successful policies depend, primarily, on ethnic minority communities being better engaged with mainstream society and its institutions.
The three- hour-long roundtable discussion scratched the surface of conversations that are needed amongst minority graduates on issues of diversity, job market experiences, institutional racism, and social mobility. Eventually, by continuing this conversation, we work to advance institutional understanding of the complexity of race and ethnic diversity in Britain’s job market and strive towards generating sustainable collaborations and lasting change in an area that continues to present significant barriers to achieving race and ethnic diversity.
We intend to plant the seeds for these conversations and push for serious thought in these areas to further evolve. These difficult conversations about diversity and job market experiences/outcomes are our first steps towards a plan of action. These conversations must continue to develop.
Written by Sarita Dash, NIAS