Britains BAME Employment Problem
Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Britons face shocking levels of discrimination within hiring practices and during employment.
Researchers at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, recently released a report that shows that within the labour market, BAME applicants sent 70-90% more applications than white Britons to receive the same share of callbacks, with Pakistanis needing to send less than their Nigerian and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) counterparts. For high-skilled occupations, Nigerian applicants had to send the greatest number of applications, 120% more than white Britons, to receive the same number of callbacks.
Some employers make active efforts to prevent the kind of discrimination that occurs in the first stages of the application process. The capital’s civil service operates on name-blind recruitment so that names be omitted from CVs and cover letters, which does have a part in tackling unconscious bias. Meanwhile, other employers are increasing the potential for discrimination by asking for a picture alongside the application.
The conclusion of the report, that racism still very much exists and operates in the public life of British society, was not groundbreaking in the slightest. What was disquieting was the sheer amount of effort BAME applicants have to put in when they are only at the initial stages of the process, and how consistent the discrimination has been half a century later. A study conducted by the same researchers in 1969 found that the discrimination levelled at the black and south Asian populations has not decreased.
The report also showed that the discrimination faced, like the identities involved, was intersectional. Researchers say ‘employers were reluctant to invite any applicant originating from Muslim-majority countries, whether or not they disclosed their religion in the job application’. This reflects the societal increase in Islamophobia felt across the UK.
The research by Nuffield College, among others, illustrates that despite initiatives following the 1960s Race Relations Acts, discrimination in employment has not been effectively alleviated. BAME applicants face discrimination in the recruitment process; bullying based on their ethnic background - 37% of people surveyed by the TUC reported workplace abuse; receive disproportionately less promotion opportunities to their white counterparts; and, analysis by thinktank, Resolution Foundation, found that black, Asian and ethnic minority employees are losing out on £3.2bn a year in wagescompared to white colleagues doing the same work. Among female graduates, black women faced the biggest pay penalty, of £1.62 an hour (9%). For black male graduates, the pay gap between them and white graduates was 17%, or £3.90 an hour, while Pakistani and Bangladeshi male graduates, fared slightly better, earning an average £2.67 an hour (12%) less.
Results from the DLHE data set which looks at the jobs of graduates after 6 months further prove this discrimination operates on an intersectional basis, and the power structures within employment and recruitment favour white applicants, mostly men. Dr Sadhvi Dar, Senior Lecturer at the School of Business Management (SBM) at Queen Mary, University of London, said that data from the DLHE service reinforces the findings of the report by Nuffield College to some extent, but again highlight the further inequality women are subject to. Sadhvi commented,
‘My department requested data about our students’ graduate outcomes. We found that when compared to men and to white women, women of colour (WoC) face significant barriers to finding graduate level work. When broken down by ethnicity, the worst hit are Bangladeshi women [who are also predominantly Muslim].
‘Unequal outcomes between WoC and other racialised-gendered graduate groups is not particular to my department, it is a national trend. WoC have worse prospects when entering and working in the professional workplace. We’re not being hired by professional employers, and when we are hired, we face higher rates of bullying and we’re less likely to be promoted – this exclusion is particularly severe for Bangladeshi women’
As a result of pressure from the Opposition, the current Government launched a consultation on making ethnicity pay reporting a legal requirement, similar to that on the gender pay gap, late last year. Companies revealing the extent of the disparity faced between BAME and white employees can result in pressure being placed on them internally, and externally by the government and by lobbying groups to address the issue.Only about 3% of large employers have so far voluntarily reported their ethnic pay gaps. One of the few companies to do so, ITN, found that its BAME employees were paid 21% less per hour than white employees.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, commissioned an audit of public-sector pay in London and found that BAME staff were paid up to 37% less on average. The differences were especially noticeable within the police force.
Discrimination in terms of both pay and treatment is common in the public sector. Though the NHS is so reliant on it's BAME staff, the proportion of ethnic-minority staff who reported being subject to discrimination from their colleagues in the last 12 months has risen to 15%, according to data published by NHS Englandin a new workforce race equality standard report. BAME staff are also consistently more likely to be disciplined for similar actions that their white counterparts would not, indicating that BAME people are closely scrutinised and face a greater expectation of failure.
Universities are not exempt from these trends among staff. Discrimination in the hiring and promoting and pay practices of BAME academics is revealing of an entrenched race problem within British academia, which has a highly detrimental subsequent effect on students of minority backgrounds.
Advance HE conducted research into the fraction of professors in the UK from ethnic minority backgrounds. They found that in the 2016-17 academic year out of 19,000 professors, more than 14,000, or 74% were white, while only 90 black men and 25 black women were recorded in the same position. A more recent report also showed that BAME staff remained more likely than their white peers to be in junior positions, to be less well paid and to be employed on fixed-term rather than permanent contracts.
The reality is even more dire in the arts. Astudy by the Royal Historical Society recently found that less than one in 100 history professors in the UK is black. 94% of history professors are white. In November, theBBC reported that Olivette Otele, at Bath Spa University, became the first black woman to be awarded a professorship in History. She commented that as a member of an ethnic minority, herself and her colleagues face structural barriers that mean they have to work ‘much harder’ than their white counterparts for the same recognition.
‘Historians are a very close-knit group. It's not surprising that there's only two of us; first, a black man who was appointed two years ago and now me’, Professor Otele said.
Dr Dar also commented on the hiring practices of the likes of these “close-knit” circles in academia.
‘When you look at the career trajectories of academics of colour, you see that we seem to work longer in junior positions compared to academics racialised as white who seem to climb the ranks in the same department at a faster rate. This is often because getting promoted relies on a lot of networking and being given administrative responsibilities so you can prove that you have contributed to your field or to the management of your department. From what I have seen over my career, academics of colour across the UK are less likely to be awarded these positions, so as a result it becomes more difficult for us to make a case for promotion despite us being there the same time, teaching the same modules and publishing quality research compared to our white colleagues.’
The BBC released data at the end of last year which showed shockingly vast disparities in the salaries of academics from different ethnic backgrounds in similar positions. From the 22 Russell Group universities (of 24) which responded, the data shows that the average - regardless of sex - annual salary for white academics stands at £52,000, £38,000 for black academics, and £37,000 for Arab academics. The difference between white academics and their arab counterparts at top UK research-based institutions being £15,000, or 26%. Women from ethnic minority backgrounds, especially black female academics, fared the worst in comparison to white male staff on an average salary of £55,000.
● white women received 15% less
● Asian women, 22% less
● black women, 39% less
There is overwhelming evidence to show that BAME academics are disproportionately underrepresented because of the nature of hiring practices, which favours personal relationships over merit, and are unfairly paid in the same jobs. This has a detrimental impact on discouraging future BAME students who may wish to advance to an academic career following their undergraduate programme. Based on their research on the representation of BAME academics, Royal Historical Society notes that lack of diversity has a real impact on the "quality of teaching, learning and research in History in the UK".
The Prioritization of Knowledge
The lack of representation of BAME academics and their exclusion from the highest positions in many university departments can be linked to the prioritisation of Eurocentric knowledge at these esteemed institutions.
For instance, within History departments, medieval-period subjects are given the greatest worth. Research on topics outside of the narrow scope of what has been considered valuable is sideline. Thus, as a result of the courses themselves lacking diversity, or lacking a perspective that is not focused on Europeans looking outwards, the teaching staff has also been limited to mostly white men. Examples of sidelining include courses such as ‘African Studies’ being considered niche and limited in provision, while the alternative could have been teaching African history as part of a broad and comprehensive History course.
The limited character of these courses, once again, links to the exclusivity in the networks that make decisions about hiring and publication. Dr Dar reveals,
‘Many academics note that publication in high-ranked journals is mitigated by “gatekeepers” who influence who or what is published in these journals and who is not. If we had a fair and just reviewing system, you would expect to see a diverse range of voices and academics represented across these journals. However, what seems to be the case is that the same people keep getting published in the same high-profile journals, suggesting that there is an amount of favouritism going on. In this way, we can propose that academics of colour build a portfolio of published work in a context that is structured by a system that privileges white knowledge and white authorship.’
Trying to publish work that critiques ‘ power structures and white privilege or looks to understand how whiteness structures knowledge, often involves you having to publish in journals that have ‘’whiteness’ or ‘race’ in their title. Publishing the same work in many mainstream journals is much harder for a number of reasons. But the main issue here is that by mainstream journals not publishing critical work, there is an amount of legitimacy taken away from it.’
The problem of discrimination against applicants of colour can only be remedied through the internal structures of the employers. However, initiatives such as the BreakThrough!Bangladeshi Women’s Career Group, set up by Dr Dar, who is also the Widening Participation academic lead at Queen Mary’s SBM, can contribute to raising awareness about graduate inequalities and seeks to empower women of colour so they can lead initiatives that outline what needs to change for things in the workplace to get better for them.
BreakThrough!is a student-led, self-organized group of SBM Bangladeshi women alumni and students, set up as a response to Bangladeshi women’s limited career opportunities. The group’s remit is to tackle the impediments Bangladeshi women graduates face in their careers – and during their degrees – by designing evidence-based interventions aimed at creating equitable opportunities for work.
One of the interventions BreakThrough! has worked on is to set up and run The Women’s Cafe, a space created for the purpose of engagement and research about the marginalisation of women of colour in work, including parts of the preceding process, such as networking events - which for members of ethnic minorities do not feel conducive to portraying a relatable reality.
‘Our research found that there's a very strong sentiment among women of colour that networking events at university are quite harmful and exclusive spaces. The events are very often alcohol infused; they're at funny times of the day; they're not very welcoming to women, and there’s a disconnect between the kinds of information and advice being delivered compared to the experiences of migrant families that experience the workplace in a particular way. Additionally, many events don’t include relateable speakers, so the experience of attending an event can be quite alienating.’
‘From our discussions with women across campus, we realised that a priority for our department and for Queen Mary is to create a safe and inclusive space for connecting with each other, sharing our experiences and making the university better for everyone. That’s where the idea of a Women’s Cafe came from. The Café is about providing safe spaces for all members of the university community to come together and to collaboratively generate ways to improve the graduate experience.’