THE BLOG

Are The Aspirations Of Young, Talented, BAME Individuals Limited By A Lack Of Diverse Role Models In Certain Industries?

04/05/2017 11:50 BST | Updated 04/05/2017 11:50 BST

Get the straight weave, not the braids. Get used to being asked where you're really from. Get used to being seen as an authority on all matters to do with any minority group (I've lost count of the number of times subjects such as 696 forms have come up in meetings and people turn to the only non-white face in the room expecting to you be some kind of expert on all aspects of the topic).

Yes, as a mixed race woman, I can - and have - dealt with endless micro-aggressions in the workplace (such as when I an ex-boss commented on how he was surprised I liked gay people, what with me being part-Jamaican), but why should I? Especially when there seems to be a more worrying trend at play - the lack of ethnic role models in industry contributing to limiting the aspirations of talented BAME young people.

A recent study by City Year UK found that 83% of young people felt they needed to fit into the same mould as an employer in order to be successfully hired, but if you don't see anyone who is a reflection of you in that recruitment process, what are the implications of that?

Diversity (or lack of) debates have sprung up in industries ranging from theatre, to the police force, to marketing, it's nothing new. Numerous studies have shown that a 'white sounding' name will edge your application ahead of someone with the same qualifications whose moniker may appear more ethnic. The result? The same City Year study found that 39% of young people believed their ethnicity would impact their chances of getting a job, with almost 10% believing they had been rejected for this reason. Imagine, though not everyone reading this will have to.

To a young person about to take their first steps on their career path, to say this is disheartening is a massive understatement of the problem. Role models and inspirations are important, if yours are limited to certain worlds then should your ambition also be? Of course not, but to be the person who breaks through to become one of the few to represent requires certain personality traits that not everyone has. And should you have to modify yourself in order to make that progress?

To quote a House of Lords debate from last May, this isn't just about ethics, it's about economics:

"This is not a challenge for BME groups. It is not a matter of morality, even--you do not have to care about any of this. This is a matter of economic survival and the sustainability of the country. We need to break barriers. The barrier to getting a job is challenge enough: 40% of jobs are not advertised. It is about "the network"; it is about who you know and how you know them; it is about access to the choice experiences that might get you into our media, our judiciary and our politics. It is all word of mouth. If you are in the network, you are in; if you are not, you are not. And although there are exceptions that prove the rule when these networks have worked for BME groups, the generality is that the opposite is the case. That is why we are having the debate."

We've recently joined the BAME 20/20 initiative, which aims to improve minority intake into the marketing media and communication industry by 20%, whilst retaining middle management by 20% all by 2020. There's lots to be done, but to know there is a collective understanding that things need to change inspires feelings of hope that other industries may not be as lucky to benefit from.

It may also mean that never again will something like this make it through every stage of sign off. Some called it cultural appropriation, I call it a massive lack of cultural awareness that is just one of the downsides of a homogeneous workplace. It's true, I have no idea of the ethnic make-up of Knorr's marketing / advertising department, and am making assumptions here, but come on GREEN PEAS!?