THE BLOG

Why It's Time for Business to Talk About Britain's BAME Youth

08/09/2014 15:46 BST | Updated 08/11/2014 10:59 GMT

The Department for Education published its annual School Census last week, which included a prediction that white British children will be the minority in state schools by 2037 if current trends continue. This caused concern in some quarters that white British kids will be increasingly marginalised. Yet for me, the most pressing issue is that in 2014, we have more than one in four children from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background in primary and secondary education, but only one in 16 people across key leadership roles is BAME. This means there is a desperate need for role models to inspire this generation. We also know that BAME young people are currently losing out in the career race with persistent higher rates of unemployment.

The UK's BAME population is growing rapidly. Earlier this year Policy Exchange projected that by the year 2050, one in three people in the UK will be BAME. That's effectively the current ethnic breakdown of London being reflected across the whole of the country. Alongside this latest statistic, it is estimated that one in five first-time voters in next year's general election will come from a BAME background. This is a future workforce, consumer and customer purchasing base and electoral influence that businesses, government and policy-makers cannot afford to ignore.

The reality is that with no clear commitment from political or business leaders to take action, the future is bleak for Britain's growing young BAME population. 16-24 year olds from BAME backgrounds are still more likely to be Neets (not in employment, education or training) than their white counterparts; in some parts of London, this is the case for over half of young black men. Many sectors have woefully low BAME representation - construction, manufacturing and energy to name a few - whilst others, such as law and media, are seen as closed off to BAME young people as a viable career option.

The recent 'Elitist Britain?' report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that many senior posts are occupied by those who have attended Oxbridge or Russell Group universities, including 75% of judges, 58% of the Cabinet and 47% of newspaper columnists. And whilst one in six UK-domiciled students now comes from a BAME background, BAME students continue to be under-represented in Oxbridge and Russell Group university undergraduate intakes. This is surely damaging their chances to reach the top jobs. Add to that, if there continues to be no-one young BAME people can identify with in these senior roles, it must negatively affect their aspirations.

The lack of role models in seniority is mirrored across most sectors; our latest report 'Race at the Top' showed there had been virtually no ethnicity change in top management positions in the five years between 2007 and 2012 and in real terms more than 21,000 BAME people have lost senior positions within both private and public sector organisations.

So what can be done to ensure that this future workforce of young BAME people has equal access to viable and sustained employment?

I believe that the approach is twofold: a current workforce that reflects today's working-age population - in all its diversity, and at all levels of organisations; and expanding young people's views on the career opportunities available to them.

On the first point, I am calling for two words - 'and race' - to be added to the UK Corporate Governance Code and for the government to carry out a review on racial barriers in the workplace. As we have seen from the Lord Davies review on women on boards, this approach can have a huge impact on the 'if' of whether a business even considers diversity in their workplace, and the 'how' of what they do to achieve it.

But in order to ensure that BAME employees can progress within organisations, we have to ensure they are being recruited in the first place. Businesses that are concerned about their economic sustainability (which should be all of them) need to be looking at their future talent pipeline now. And if they aren't talking to BAME candidates then I'd suggest that a fair bit of work needs to be done.

Business needs to ask questions of their recruitment approach: do they know how BAME young people find out about jobs in their organisation, and are they making the information they need available? Do they have mandatory unconscious bias training for anyone involved in recruitment - and progression - decisions? Do they look at the ethnicity of candidates at each stage of their application process to make sure there are no barriers to BAME applicants?

Over the past few weeks there have been many reports that young people don't have the necessary skills to succeed in the workplace, particularly in sectors such as STEM. To me, it's clear that businesses have a responsibility to engage with schools and colleges to help young people, which must include those from BAME backgrounds, and ensure they are made aware of the various career paths and opportunities with their organisations. After all, if young people don't know how amazing a career in engineering could be, or where it could take them - then why would they be inspired to choose it?

Businesses can inspire and inform the future workforce, as well as increase the scope of their ambitions and create recruitment pathways that don't leave them stuck on the first rung. We know this won't be quick or easy. But as things stand, there is a lack of genuine equal opportunity for British BAME employees of the future. There is no point continuing to ignore what may seem to be an uncomfortable conversation around race. Let's all get over that and start talking. Business and government need to take note and act now.