No one likes to be told they are biased. Most progressive, modern people in business would like to think they are open-minded, gender neutral and non-discriminatory. The stats, however, tell a different story.
Barely 3% of Britain’s most powerful and influential people are from black and minority ethnic groups, according to analysis that highlights inequality, despite decades of legislation to address discrimination. From a list of just over 1,000 of the UK’s top political, financial, judicial, cultural and security figures drawn up by the Guardian in partnership with Operation Black Vote and in consultation with academics, only 36 (3.4%) were from ethnic minorities (BAME). Just seven (0.7%) were BAME women.
Meanwhile, the gender pay gaps still gapes open. The national pay gap stands at 18.1 percent, the Office for National Statistics estimates. The biggest gender pay gap is in the financial services industry, where men are paid 39.5 percent more than women in the same positions. This means for every £1 a man earns, a woman gets 60p.
Still, most boards will bury their heads in the sand and insist they are inclusive. Laughology has sat around many a table filled with white, middle-aged, middle-class men who argue their policies are unbiased. And this is true. Thankfully, the days of open discrimination are long gone. There is legislation to protect against such practices and in the modern, global world, employers would not last long if they actively selected based on race and gender. So why is there is still a problem?
The uncomfortable truth is that bias goes much deeper and is a hugely complex problem that does not have a quick fix. All of us hold unconscious biases. It is an innate, evolutionary instinct to favour others who look like us and share similar backgrounds. In organisations, there is no single silver bullet that can be used to eliminate bias because everyone holds individual biases. To address the issue, organisations need to look at their cultures honestly and identify areas that can be addressed. Is your organisational culture welcoming, would it appear welcoming to someone from a different background outside the organisation? How is it perceived by others? Is it diverse? Would different groups be attracted to your organisation and would they be represented within it? What policies and procedures are in place to ensure equality and inclusivity? What are the organisation’s paternity and maternity leave policies? What does the management structure look like? How are managers chosen. As you can see, the issue is wide-ranging and in order to address it, organisations need to take a holistic and long-term approach.
On a societal level, bias and inequality, whether conscious or not, tends to cause disparities in educational attainment, health, employment and treatment by police and courts between ethnicities. In the UK, these inequalities have been highlighted by several high-profile initiatives. Freedom of Information requests from MP David Lammy showed that as many as 16 Oxbridge colleges failed to offer any places to black British applicants in 2015 and details in the new Government ‘Ethnicity facts and figures’ website which shows that:
- Black Caribbean pupils are permanently excluded from school three times as often as white British classmates
- White British pupils on free school meals perform the worst at key stage two, with just 32% reaching the expected level
- Indian, Pakistani and white people are more likely to own their own homes than black and Bangladeshi individuals
- Unemployment among black, Asian and minority ethnic people is nearly double that of white Britons
- Rates of smoking are highest in the mixed and white ethnic groups
- Just over half of white adults ate five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, compared with a third of black adults
In response to the figures, Prime Minister Theresa May said institutions must "explain or change". The government has set out its plans to get its own house in order and plans to become "the UK's most inclusive employer by 2020”. It’s plans include a dedicated ethnic minority programme to improve the representation of ethnic minority staff at the most senior levels across the civil service. It will also establish a "diverse leadership task force" that reports to the cabinet secretary. By April next year, it will begin to monitor progress towards a new civil service-wide target to increase the flow of ethnic minority and disabled staff into the senior civil service.
It is already setting a good example. 42 per cent of current senior civil servants are women, and 49 per cent of all new recruits into it were women this year. This is a much better average of than FTSE firms, where just 26 per cent of executives and board members are women. The proportion of ethnic minority civil servants has increased from 9.4 per cent in 2012 to 11.2 per cent today, while representation of disabled people within the civil service has also risen each year since 2010, standing at 9.9 per cent this year.
The government is also taking steps to address the gender pay gap across all sectors. From April next year, thousands of UK employers will be required to publish figures showing the difference between what men and women earn. Voluntary, private and public organisations with 250 or more employees will have to reveal any gender discrepancies in staff pay. The rules will affect almost half the UK workforce; around 9,000 organisations employing more than 15 million people.
The benefits of making workplaces more inclusive, equal and diverse are huge. Eliminating gender gaps at work could add 150 billion pounds to annual gross domestic product by 2025, according to a study by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Inc. cited by the government. Ethnically diverse workforces compete better on global trade and attract a wider range of talent. Yet still there is widespread reticence and a tendency to maintain the status quo. Some organisations worry about disrupting their cultures. In a globalised world however, positive change is vital for progression. The issue needs to be addressed on all levels. So, in business, it is not just about co-opting more diversity in management or on the Board. It is about the brand and how it looks, it is about marketing, media, language, digital content. And in the public sector it is about cultures in schools and universities and local authorities.
Some organisations are addressing issues of bias and the example set by government, and the new pay gap rules will also help. But there is a long way to go. The Fawcett Society
, which campaigns for gender equality, says it would take 60 years to close the pay gap at the current rate of progress. Most will agree that they want a fairer, more balanced society, but wanting does not change things. Organisations need to act.
So what can organisations do:
- Analyse. What do people feel about their own experience? What do management and leadership do? Do people perceive diversity as important?
- Identify. Use analysis data to identify areas that need to be addressed
- Develop programmes that support managers, leaders and exec teams to discuss bias in a non-judgemental way
- Awareness training
- Look at recruitment from every angle
- Recognise bias and create a positive culture of challenge
- Look at performance reviews and appraisals
- A look at all policies and procedures
- Develop quick wins or things to do immediately such as
- Reduce levels of bias by having men and women on decision-making panels
- Look at the interview process. Are clean CVs a good idea? Who sits on interview panels?
- Have an open and honest discussion about what diversity means in your organisation. Why are you doing it? It should not just be to look diverse. It should also be about diverse thinking.
- Promote diverse external links. Consider guest speakers and lectures.
- Schedule meetings for diversity ensure the times and locations do not exclude people. For example, a meeting in the pub could exclude some people.
Laughology works with organisations such as the Police force, National house federation, Savills, Natwest, Burgess salmon and many more on awareness training as well as successful organisational change programmes that have had a positive impact on diversity. We can analyse, measure and create bespoke programmes based on an understanding of what works. We’re always happy to have a chat, so give us a call or drop us an email and we can share some ideas.