It is time to take stock and act on race at work in 2021

Post author image. Sandra Kerr
Sandra Kerr CBE, Race Equality Director at Business in the Community reflects on findings in the Race at Work 2021 Scorecard Report.
Sandra Kerr smiles at the camera

The Race At Work 2021: The Scorecard Report, produced in partnership with YouGov, launches today.

In 2015 Business in the Community (BITC) called for a government review into race in the workplace and labour market in first Race at Work report. Two years later the government sponsored Race in the workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review found greater progress and positive outcomes were needed to ensure all organisations benefit from the wealth of diverse talent on offer.

BITC’s Race at Work 2018: The Scorecard Report was published one year after the McGregor-Smith Review. It looked at how UK employers were performing against the recommendations outlined in the review. The findings led Business in the Community (BITC) to create the Race at Work Charter, five calls to action for organisations committed to improving equality of opportunity in the workplace. The commitments were to appoint an executive sponsor for race, capture ethnicity data and publicise progress, board-level zero tolerance on bullying and harassment in the workplace, leaders and managers being responsible for promoting equality and to support the progression of Black Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse employees in the workplace. At the same time the government launched a consultation into mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.

In 2021 we need to take stock and examine where we are now. The 2021 Race at Work survey, on which the Scorecard Report is based had a total of 24,638 responses. It is the ‘noisiest’ survey to date with 24,950 comments.

I’ve said in my foreword that the findings make for both exciting and disappointing reading. It is exciting because they capture the level of motivation and ambition that the current generation of British Black, Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse workers possess. The volume of employers voluntarily capturing their ethnicity pay gap data has shifted from 11% to 19%. The number of senior leaders promoting equality has increased from 33% to 44%. It is also positive to see evidence of the enthusiasm of allies undimmed. 9,450 of the comments linked to the survey were on allyship alone.

The findings are disappointing because of the visible and invisible barriers that people say they face when seeking career progression opportunities. And it is upsetting to read the trends emerging from the racial harassment and bullying data. These tell us that overt and covert racial discrimination persists in British workplaces, permeating employee relationships with customers, clients, service users and contractors.

Racial harassment and bullying from customers clients and service users came into sharp focus in the retail sector over Christmas adverts and the horrendous racial abuse of the England players at Euro 2020. We have called on the government to strengthen protections in the outstanding Employment Bill. We ask employers to ensure that their policies and actions protect employees serving customers, clients, and service users. It is totally unacceptable to racially abuse people trying to serve you. The trend data in the report demonstrates that this must be stamped out and must be stamped out now.

What else are we asking for in 2021? We are calling on the over 780 Race at Work Charter organisations representing 5.8 million people, to commit to two additional Charter commitments.

Commitment Six: Support your inclusion allies

The first of these additional commitments is a call for employers to support inclusion allies in their workplaces. 39% of White respondents said “my employer supports people like me who want to promote race equality”. Just over a quarter (26%) said that they would like more support from their employers.

Our new Supporting Inclusion Allies factsheet contains brief details on practical ways employers can support allies. It also signposts to useful BITC resources.

Commitment Seven: Be inclusive in your supply chains

The second new Race at Work Charter commitment calls on employers to include Black, Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse led businesses and enterprises in their supply chains.

One in three ethnically diverse respondents said that it was important to see role models from their ethnic backgrounds. 43% of Black Caribbean, 38% of Black African and 38% of Indian respondents said this.

Employers should ensure Black-owned businesses and enterprises are part of their supply chains, monitoring timely payment and contract value. These actions will contribute to creating role models for young people and the wider community, as well as economic inclusion. Employers should include this in their Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting.

BITC’s Ethnically diverse-led business owners in supply chains toolkit contains recommendations for employers to create and sustain a supplier diversity programme.

Addressing negative trends in the The Race at Work 2021 Scorecard Report: Scale up mentorship and sponsorship

The Race at Work 2021 Scorecard Report contains a RAG rating (red/amber/green colour coding) to summarise progress against the McGregor-Smith’s Review’s recommendations. One of the few green RAG indicators in the Race at Work 2018 Scorecard Report was in the area of mentoring and sponsorship. To my surprise in 2021 this has reversed.

Two-way mentoring benefits both parties with advice, inspiration, and insight. When great rapport is created these relationships often morph into active advocacy, opening doors and supporting the progression of diverse talent through active sponsorship from the senior leader.

Last week was the closing event for the eighth BITC’s Cross Organisational Mentoring Circles programme. There were 38 employers and 400 participants involved. It was inspiring to hear the impact of the programme on individuals. I believe it is time to scale up mentoring and to scale up sponsorship behaviours from leaders, if we are to reverse the negative trend on access to opportunity, advice, and inspiration through mentoring for Black, Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse employees.

Learn how mentoring supports inclusive progression.

Take action

We are calling on the over 780 Race at Work Charter signatory organisations representing 5.8 million people, to commit to the two additional Charter principles. If your organisation has not signed the Charter I urge you to take action.

The McGregor-Smith Review clearly set out the size of the prize of inclusion of Black, Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse employees in the UK workplace – a £24bn annual income boost to the UK economy. We must be inclusive and fully utilise, nurture and develop the skills and abilities of Black, Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse populations across the UK, to ensure that we realise the significant economic boost that will contribute to a sustained and inclusive recovery.