Creating a diverse workforce

Mar 08 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

In a hard-hitting presentation given to the Recruitment Society at its February meeting, Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality highlighted the challenges in creating a truly diverse workplace and criticised some organisations for not having the vision to embrace the need for and achieve change.

Depicting the backdrop Phillips flagged that the birth rate in UK is currently 1.2 million lower than it was 20 years ago. Across the current member states of EU, the workforce is projected to decrease from 250 million to 204 million over the next 30 years. And the number of pensioners is expected to double over the same period.

Nationally, one in 11 of the population has at some point in their lives faced imprisonment. In Afro-Caribbeans, this figure is one in four. In 2002, some 8,000 Afro-Carribeans went to university while 11,000 were sent to jail.

Afro-Caribbeans also earn, on average, £5,000 less than the national average, while for Pakistani communities the difference reaches £6,500 p.a. Furthermore, these groups rapidly reach a “soft skills” ceiling beyond which their jobs and careers can not develop.

The bottom line, he said, is that people are constantly at war with each other, no contribution can be made to communities or their businesses.

Barriers to successful integration arise from inequality. People feel and experience things which are equivalent, such as the important area of citizens’ common rights. While organisations make a contribution to shaping the general culture, what is often forgotten is that integration is a people issue and requires commitment from everyone.

But while the CRE has as one of its remits the role of regulator, its focus has recently been on three other areas; enforcement; advise; and conciliation.

Phillips also made the point that the CRE’s activities are not confined to black / white race issues. It becomes involved in conflict resolution and avoidance, it advises and assists Government in areas such as controlling the activities of “Jihad” and settling problem areas in their early stages such as the North London school uniform issue.

Another matter of relevance to the Diversity issue is the falling birth rate. Without a proper Diversity strategy, organisations may find themselves soon short of labour, especially in some highly specialised and skilled areas.

Despite best efforts, stereotyping remains stubbornly as high as it ever was. In 2002 200,000 police staff employed nationally attended 130,000 different training seminars on race and racial awareness. One might have expected that such training would have had a positive effect. In fact the reverse happened, in 2001 Afro-Caribbeans were more than five times likely to be stopped and searched and in 2002 this figure had risen to eight times.

In legislation, Parliament has focused on equality of opportunity, equality of treatment in the workplace, and good relations between different races and national ethnic origins. Perhaps it has missed the real issue, and we should really be concentrating more on motivation rather than on purely equality and conformity. Studies in America have found that pressures to conform stifle the creativity and motivation that is such an essential factor in a satisfying career. But people in immigrant communities often lack the innate confidence to develop motivation and individuality associated with higher paid work.

In the longer term, Phillips said, the issue is one of attitude. But attitudes can be shaped by short term actions which through experience can have the effect of changing people’s behaviour. A good example of how people’s behaviour can be changed is seen from the effect of the London congestion charge.

In the case of promoting racial harmony and equality, people need to be given the tools to make them aware of the problem and to act then on identification of the problem.

Recruitment professionals can make a huge contribution to this process, Phillips concluded. The can help people by just talking through everyday experiences and building up their self-esteem. They can work with people to help push them through the “soft skills” ceiling. And they can work with graduates who have hit a ceiling, identify the causes and then provide additional training or coaching.