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Black and Minority Ethnic Communities and the Labour Market

Over the past few decades, Britain’s ethnic minority population has increased significantly. From around one million in 1971, it rose to eight million in 2011. While there’s been some improvement in social outcomes, particularly in education over the past decade, there remain significant ethnic inequalities, particularly in the labour market.

Overall, the difference in employment rate between black and minority ethnic (BME) and white British people is around 11%. BME workers are also more likely to be unemployed, to have low wages, and less likely to be in senior positions.

The inequalities of the labour market are even more pronounced in education. Undergraduate BME students represent 20% of our university population. They represent 30% of those studying law, but only 8% of those studying history. Furthermore, BME graduates - and especially Bangladeshi, Caribbean and Pakistani graduates - are much less likely to go to ‘Russell Group’ universities. They are also much less likely to get a first or a 2:1.

This story will be familiar to those working in the cultural and heritage sectors. There are a number of reasons why we need to reduce racial inequalities in the labour market. Some of these apply particularly to the cultural sector, and especially to publicly funded heritage bodies.

First are the social justice or social mobility arguments. It’s unfair that ethnic minorities still have to send in twice as many CVs just to get a job interview. Once in a job, they are also less likely to progress and get pay rises.

Second are economic or cost-benefit arguments. The BME employment gap in 2011 meant that there were 500,000 fewer BME workers in the labour market. That’s half a million fewer people paying taxes and providing a stable economic environment for their families. If this gap isn’t reduced by 2051, our ‘missing’ BME workers would rise to one million and pose a serious challenge to Britain’s economic performance as well as our social cohesion.

Organisations need to tap into the rising proportion of BME people among the working-age population. The challenge is not simply in recruitment where nationally 20% of the 18-24 year old population is BME. In London 40% of people in their 40s are BME, highlighting how retention and progression need to be addressed. To remain competitive and successful, organisations will need to respond much more quickly and fundamentally to improve racial equality in their workplaces.

In relation to workforce diversity, diverse workplaces are more effective and successful than ones where everyone looks and thinks the same.

The complexity and diversity of modern social and organisational problems means that no individual can possibly understand how to resolve them. There’s now evidence that a range of different viewpoints is more likely to overcome these challenges.

Furthermore, while different perspectives bring innovation, herd behaviour can lead organisations to a precipice and over the edge. Without alternative viewpoints being cultivated the risk of herd behaviour increases.

For the heritage or cultural sector in particular, we often neglect the reality of Britain’s past and focus on a narrow part of our own story. Runnymede has recently launched a website Our Migration Story: The Making of Britain that documents how migration is an intrinsic part of the economic, social and cultural development of who we were and who we are today.

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Please send your responses to Sukhvinder Singh, Senior Policy Adviser - Diversity and Inclusion and share this article on social media via the tab on the left.

The author

Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust

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