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Case Study Series, Part 2 -The Challenges

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

Welcome back.

Now, we explore a relevant topic to us all, the challenges faced in the work place. Let's pay attention to the shifting landscape at work and the research around the BAME workforce. It may appear to be abstract but we should be aware of the impact on the livelihoods and security of the BAME community. Ourselves included.

The statistics reveal that 1 out of 8 of the working-age population is from a BME background, yet they occupy only 1 out of 16 of top management positions.' By 2030, the BAME workforce will represent 20% of the working-age population. In 2017, it was reported to be 14%. With technological advances and an ageing population, the imperative is quite clear that the diverse pool talent needs to be fully utilised. (Source: The McGregor Smith Review, Race in the Workplace)

From what I have gathered from the research, there are some very interesting insights that need to be shared here. The most important one to emphasise here is that:

‘Employees from a BAME background are significantly more likely than those from a white British or other ethnic background to say career progression is an important factor in their working life.’

(Source: CIPD website)

This particular statement validates our desires as migrants to seek out opportunities for a better life or to lift standards of living. Career progression comes with recognition, influence and realised dreams. Coming to the UK, to start a new life and leaving our loved ones behind in our country of origin, in the hope that living in the UK will make all those sacrifices worthwhile.

However, career progression is not always forthcoming. The most obvious is that the workplace is not a levelled playing field. And the research supports this.

• BAME employees value coaching and career development support from their line managers and the organisation.

This is so true. Feeling supported is imperative to being motivated to perform and progress in their career. For the organisation, recognising this is a starting point to bringing about a change in organisational culture.

• BAME employees’ value training and education, they see the benefit in getting skilled or qualified to improve their chances of promotion.

Fact. Training and education present opportunities which might not have been available in their country of origin. It is a route to an improved standard of living. But often times that training is not utilised, another tick in the box.

• BAME employees stated that transparent career paths would help progress their careers.

It only makes sense to know the way to success. Or at least, knowing that your efforts are working towards a goal that is mapped out. It can get blurry and goal posts keep shifting.

• BAME employees would like to see greater diversity of people at senior levels as this would boost their confidence and give them the reassurance that it is possible and they are not alone.

Yes, it makes the goal achievable knowing that the route has been travelled before by like-minded people of your own ethnicity. Knowing that you are not alone, i.e. dreaming big and wanting more for yourself is not about gaining recognition but reaching your full potential.

• BAME employees’ value networking with people outside the organisation.

Basically, keeping their options open and exploring the endless possibilities that exist outside the organisation which really portrays a lack of loyalty to their employer. Can you blame them?

Apparently, BAME employees have a lot to offer as they are always progressive and passionate towards their career goals, as highlighted above. The wider benefit for the organisation would be increased retention. There won’t be a drain on an organisation’s resources as human resources can focus on other areas, i.e. ‘develop and grow talent, utilise and mobilise talent.’ (Hiltrop: 2005)

It is becoming increasingly evident that the workplace and organisations stand to benefit from diversity of thoughts, ideas and ways of working of people from different backgrounds, experiences and identities, but this requires a major shift in organisational behaviour and embedding an inclusive culture.

On a national scale, the wider UK economy benefits from having full representation of BAME individuals across the labor market - it is estimated to be £24 billion a year, which represents 1.3% GDP. The BAME workforce has made huge contributions to the UK economy. This is an important reminder to keep at the forefront. (Source: The McGregor Smith Review, Race in the Workplace)

Its also worth noting the impact of discrimination above, as it costs the UK government £40 billion when the lack of progression opportunities costs and lack of participation costs are combined which has an impact on the amount of tax that government receives for public investments and services. It would make economical sense to aim for full representation of BAME individuals across the UK workforce! And this is supported at an organisational level, where it costs more to recruit new staff than to retain and train staff.

Moving on, we now know that all BME groups are more likely to be overqualified than White ethnic groups but White British employees are more likely to be promoted than all other groups.This is largely due to the ‘unconscious bias’ that exists in the workplace. Despite extensive training and diversity and inclusion policies to counter this, it is still a work in progress.

Unconscious bias relates to social stereotypes that we hold about groups of people outside our conscious awareness. This affects everyone, we all hold some preconceived ideas about others that is not compatible with our own values, which affects our thought processes and shapes our judgements.In addition to unconscious bias types, there are also micro aggressions which I include below.

(Source: Kingsley Napley)

Unconscious bias can introduce unintentional discrimination and result in poor decision-making. Unconscious bias can be counter-productive to creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. Research proves that such biases can have an impact on recruitment, mentoring and promotions. This can hamper equal opportunities for women in terms of selection and progression to a high-level management and leadership role.

For instance, recruitment process tends to be biased and here's why:

• CVs with ‘foreign-sounding’ names are less likely to be shortlisted.

• Recruiters tend to believe that ‘culture fit’ is about ‘hiring people like me’ rather than recruiting people who match the organisation’s values.

• A frequent lack of diversity on interview panels.

(Source - Forbes News: Here Is How Bias Can Affect Recruitment In Your Organisation)

However, a collective effort is of particular importance for those with decision making power, to ensure best practice in recruitment, retention and progression. Individual awareness and ownership must also be underpinned by policy, processes and frameworks to truly promote diversity throughout the workplace. Individuals are called to action, to take ownership and to challenge unconscious bias in the work place.

TO conclude, this informative piece highlights that individuals from BAME backgrounds face institutional challenges that impact considerably on their confidence and capabilities. It is true that these challenges are not of their doing but a lot of effort has been put in place to change the status quo at work. Albeit, slow.

Perhaps this is the main takeaway from this Part 2 series, not to be disheartened or discouraged but to be even more determined to being part of that change.

I leave you with something to think about - be the change you wish to see. More on that in the final part of this series, a case for change.

Thank you for reading.


Hiltrop, J. M. (2005) ‘Creating HR capability in high performance organisations’, Strategic Change, 14(3), pp. 121–131.

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