29% of black employees say that discrimination has played a part in a lack of career progression to date, almost three times as many as white British employees, according to a new survey of over 1,200 UK employees by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

One in five BAME employees (20%) said that discrimination had played a part in a lack of career progression to date, compared to just one in ten (11%) white British employees. This comes despite the fact that significantly more BAME employees said career progression was an important part of their working life than those from a white British background (25% vs 10%).

When asked what would improve their career progression, BAME employees were much more likely than white British employees to say that seeing other people like them that have progressed in the organisation, and a greater diversity of people at senior levels in their organisation would help boost their career progression. Additionally, the survey found that a quarter of BAME respondents (23%) whose organisations don’t provide mentoring said they would find it useful in achieving their potential at work.

Dr Jill Miller, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser at the CIPD, said:

There is clearly still a long way to go until we can say that equal access to progression opportunities exists regardless of ethnic background. Discrimination is totally unacceptable - everyone has the right to bring their whole selves to work without fear of prejudice or victimisation and employers have a duty to provide a workplace that delivers that. Progress is crucial, and some of the fundamentals of business need to change to avoid having this conversation again in five years’ time.

Organisations need to understand where the barriers to progression for different groups lie, and use this information to level the playing field and enable talented people to reach their potential at work. They mustn’t forget though that different minority ethnic groups are facing different obstacles and that many of us have multiple and overlapping social identities, so it’s important not to assume that one solution will remove progression barriers for all. Inclusion, fairness and transparency need to be at the heart of workplace cultures, and HR has a key role to play in helping organisations to understand this, driving change through the unique insight it has about the workforce, its makeup, and by questioning existing workplace structures and culture.

Around a third of those BAME and white British respondents (29% and 35%), who said their career progression to date has failed to meet their expectations, said they had experienced poor quality line management at key points in their career. The survey found that a significantly low level of line manager support for career development is an issue across the board, regardless of ethnicity.

Only around two-fifths of all respondents (43% BAME and 39% White British) say their line manager discusses their training and development needs with them. Just over half of employees across BAME and white British groups feel able to talk to their manager about their career aspirations (53% and 52%), and only around two-fifths of respondents across BAME and white British groups say their manager understands their career aspirations (41% and 40%).

Miller continues: 

Line managers have a significant influence on person’s career through the opportunities they afford members of their team, the coaching and training they provide, and the development conversations they have. Organisations need to invest much more in the development of line managers, and help them to understand the needs of each team member to provide the appropriate development support.

Baroness McGregor-Smith CBE commented: 

“This CIPD research sheds much needed light on the barriers to in-work progression for BAME individuals. Progress is being made, but it is slow and uneven. What is clear is that data is king. Employers must have a better, evidence-based understanding of their workforce to be able to take effective action. I believe publishing pay gaps by race and pay band will improve transparency and will ensure that employers are focusing on the right problems and taking appropriate action. We also need to be showcasing those organisations who are making substantial progress to embolden others to follow.

“The HR profession has a central role in speeding up progress by ensuring that people management practices and organisation cultures are built on the principles of trust, equality, fairness and inclusion. HR is also uniquely placed to address discrimination that we know still occurs, whether overt or through unconscious bias. I welcome the CIPD’s commitment to taking forward this agenda with its members and to support employers more widely to drive sustainable change in their organisations.”

The guide makes the following recommendations for policy-makers:

  • Provide practical support for race pay gap reporting - the transparency achieved through data reporting will undoubtedly focus attention, but government needs to support employers and encourage them to take action to make lasting change
  • Develop guidance for employer action to create more inclusive workplaces - we’re reluctant to talk about race and employers may be uncertain of where to start or fearful that they might do the wrong thing
  • Advocate and support better quality people management practice - people management is poor across the board, regardless of ethnicity, so government needs to nudge and support employers to improve their capabilities in this area

The guide makes the following recommendations for employers:

  • Understand what is happening in your organisation - collect workforce data to identify the structural and cultural barriers which are maintaining workplace inequalities
  • Think beyond policies - policies alone won’t bring about change, they need to be underpinned by principles that celebrate and encourage difference
  • Actively encourage employee voice - it’s essential that disadvantaged and disconnected groups have access to mechanisms to express their voice, such as employee resource groups that work with the organisation

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