Recruit for behaviours and willingness to acquire skills

Post author image. Sandra Kerr
Sandra Kerr CBE, Race Director at Business in the Community discusses how to close the ethnicity unemployment gap.
Sandra Kerr smiles at the camera

The unemployment gaps persists when examined by ethnicity.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the unemployment rate for White British people has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels. Before the pandemic began in July to September (Q3) 2019 it was at 3.6%. For the same period this year it was 3.8%1.

In comparison, the recovery in the unemployment rate for Black, Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse people has been severely limited. In Q3 2021 the unemployment rate was at 8.4%, this compares to 7% before the pandemic began in Q3 20192. This means that not only did Black, Asian, Mixed Race and other ethnically diverse people suffer poorer employment rates before the pandemic, they are experiencing a disproportionate increase in their unemployment rate. Rising by 1.4% over the last two years compared to White British people’s rate rising by 0.2%3.

It is time to close the gap

One way to address this is by recruiting for essential skills. What are the essential skills that you need employees to have? Teamwork, problem solving, creativity, staying positive and using initiative. Be clear and keep your adverts simple. Candidates may deselect themselves if the job description is full of jargon that would only be understood by someone already working in a particular industry or sector.

Often candidates will say that ‘my skills do not match the role’. Say up front what basic skills you are looking for. Be transparent about what training you will provide to support new recruits, and if possible, what formats you will use to deliver training. For example, if there is daily customer interface, set out the customer service training that you provide for new recruits.

Find out more about Business in the Community’s work on essential skills.

Describe your business. What is its purpose?

Don’t assume anyone other than your own employees understand what your organisation does and the range of roles and opportunities.

Inspire with your values. Be clear on your organisation’s purpose, convey why your business exists, including the impact it wants to have on the world. It gives a sense of the workplace environment a candidate will be entering, what values they can expect their team mates to have.

If continuous learning and development is featured in your values, emphasise it. Sharing your organisation’s big picture and purpose can help potential employees connect to your vision and goals. If you have employee and ally networks, mention them. It indicates that your organisation is one where the employees voice is important and you want them to share their fresh perspectives and insights.

Find out how Business in the Community (BITC) is enabling purpose-led businesses and brands as a genuine force for positive change. 

Build diversity into your selection processes

Think about equity. Many candidates may not have any role models or extended family, friends or community networks from within your industry or sector. Therefore, pre-application orientation and insight days can be useful to help potential candidates better understand what you do.

With 33% of Black employees thinking that their ethnicity could be a career blocker4, the more that you can demonstrate that this is not the case in your organisation, the better. Wherever possible, ensure the employer recruitment and selection team includes Black employees. This can help to challenge bias in the interview and selection processes and provide a role model for the candidates. Black and Asian jobseekers want to see role models from the same background5. People encountering diverse people as part of their early engagement with your organisation will signal this.

The full spectrum of job roles available should be clearly visible. Where people will sit within the organisation and team can help to build that sense of belonging.

Ensure that the recruitment agencies you use are inclusive and not biased. BITC’s Race At Work 2021: The Scorecard Report found that only 35% of Black clients believe they are treated fairly by recruitment agencies. Ensure there is diversity in the recruitment organisations that you hire to help with attracting and searching for candidates. Ask them what actions they are taking to ensure there is no bias in their approaches.

What are the opportunities to develop and progress?

Career progression is very important. BITC’s research, including the Race at Work 2015, Race at Work 2018 and Race at Work 2021 surveys consistently reveal ethnically diverse respondents are very interested in advancing their careers. The pandemic has not dimmed the enthusiasm for progression and access to opportunities to fast track. In 2021 41% of ethnically diverse respondents said this mattered to them6. Black African employees are particularly interested in opportunities at 59%, followed by Bangladeshi employees at 51% and Indian employees at 46%7. So be transparent on prospects for promotion and progression. It will help you to recruit and retain people.

Flexible, remote and hybrid working? If this is available say so. Focus on the outputs that you want people to deliver for your organisation, and the frameworks, guides and materials that you will provide to help them achieve this.

Be as transparent as possible about the career pathways within your organisation. If you have any stories of how employees have progressed within your organisation share them. If you can, find ways to use short videos or podcasts to do this.

Next steps

All organisations want to recruit from the widest pool of talent and help successful applicants progress. It is key to future productivity and performance. Diversifying your recruitment process and selections teams and including essential skills in your job descriptions and pre-applications materials are some steps you can take to help achieve this. As well as helping your business bottom line it can also contribute to closing the ethnicity employment gap.

Commit to equality of opportunity in the workplace by signing BITC’s Race at Work Charter. The Charter is seven key actions your organisation can take to help achieve workplace equality. BITC offers Charter signatories resources and support to help them achieve their goals. Join the over 800 organisations who have signed the Race at Work Charter by making your commitment to workplace equality.



  1. Office for National Statistics (2021) Dataset A09: Labour market status by ethnic group, 16 November.
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. Business in the Community (2020) Race at Work: black voices.
  5. Business in the Community (2020) Race At Work 2021: The Scorecard Report
  6. ibid.
  7. ibid.