From education to employment

Efforts to recruit young Black graduates are failing to have an impact on racial injustice at work

Efforts to recruit young Black people are failing to have an impact on racial injustice at work, says a new report from the Institute of Student Employers (@IoSEorg). 

It calls for more support from senior leadership to drive cultural change and a need to invest in a broad range of activities over a number of years. 

Based on surveys and interviews, ISE’s Black Careers Matter report looks at the actions taken by some of the UK’s largest graduate employers and the experiences of Black heritage students and graduates.  

The reporthighlighted the challenge of predominantly White workplaces. Black graduates acknowledged they were moving from relatively diverse university environments into workplaces that were likely to be less diverse. However they were unprepared for the explicit and covert racism, non-inclusive environments and found poor representation of Black people in senior positions. 

As well as the effort and skill required to know how to ‘fit in’ and adapt to the expectations of White colleagues, respondents found they had to work harder to be successful, meaning that they had to prove themselves by outperforming White peers. They called for more help to transition into work successfully and more support and training on dealing with race and racism as well as understanding unconscious bias.  

The report also found that employers recognise Black heritage graduates face additional challenges in the labour market and have dedicated recruitment processes, however there is little support once hired. For example, while 54% have a strategy to attract Black candidates and 44% track retention, just 22% provide dedicated support during early careers.  

This was echoed by the interviews with Black students and graduates who said that since the Black Lives Matter movement, they are sceptical of how deep employer commitments are.  

Employers and Black students and graduates agreed that improving diversity is not just a branding issue nor solved exclusively through recruitment. It has to be integrated into the whole organisation rather than just at the entry point.  

The report found the most effective strategies to enable Black graduates to successfully engage employers and progress include substantial forms of work experience and providing support networks such as mentoring and buddy schemes.  

Arbi Rai, joint Chair of the ISE Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group and Senior Manager of Emerging Talent Recruitment at Lloyds Banking Group said: “While it’s positive that there has started to be a greater focus on improving the experience and outcomes of Black heritage students there is much more that needs to be done. This isn’t a problem that can be solved in isolation; it requires an integrated focus within organisations and institutions, including strategic commitment not only from senior leadership but also at all levels in creating an inclusive and supportive culture. If a business isn’t prepared to do this then nothing will change.  

“In July 2020, Lloyds Banking Group launched a ‘Race Action’ plan providing targeted focus to drive cultural change, recruitment and progression across the Group which I’ve been able to see the impact of as part of my role of the Group’s Race AdvisoryPanel.”  

Yasmina Mallam-Hassam, joint Chair of the ISE Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group and Head of Employability Services at St Mary’s University said:

“Black students are looking for opportunities to realise their own ambitions for a professional career in organisations that support and value their difference. They will not take diversity statements and branding at face value and will look for engagement with their universities prior to recruitment and the ethnicity of representatives in graduate recruitment teams, current graduates and senior leaders. This requires an integrated and systemic approach in collaboration with universities as talent providers, at all stages of the attraction and selection process, plus a range of support to nurture and retain black talent.”  

Stephen Isherwood, CEO of the Institute of Student Employers added:

“Business benefits from increased diversity in the workplace only accrue when organisations manage diversity positively and progressively. Recruitment is only one part of the solution. Recruiting more Black students is essential, but the true measure of success is if they are still there in four years’ time.”  

ISE’s five steps to ensure Black Careers Matter 

  1. Be an ally. Recognising that challenging racism needs to be everyone’s business. 
  2. Prepare all students for diverse workplaces. Challenging the education system to improve career education and address racism and diversity as part of this. 
  3. Turn recruitment into a force for equality. Ensuring that all employers involve people from Black heritage backgrounds in making selection decisions and that they overhaul recruitment processes to ensure that they are not biased and discriminatory. 
  4. Maximise the potential of hires from Black heritage backgrounds. Recognising that changes to recruitment are not enough and that organisations need to support hires from Black heritage backgrounds during their early careers. 
  5. Transform your organisation and influence the world around you. Calling on all stakeholders to make more fundamental changes to ensure representation at all levels of their organisations and that they should lend their voices to wider campaigns for racial justice. 

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