There are mixed messages out there about the inclusion and representation of black and minority ethnic groups in Western society. On the one hand, we have Barack Obama, potentially the first black American president. On the other, we have a non-executive BBC director, Dr Samir Shah, claiming there are too many ethnic minority actors on TV. So what’s too much and when’s it not enough?
Racial diversity is a delicate issue. In fact, Dr Shah’s comments earlier this year about over-representation were followed by his criticism of the BBC for “rampant tokenism”
and overcompensating onscreen for a lack of diversity within their senior management structures. Striking the right balance is crucial, but integrity is even more important. If organisations are truly committed to a policy of inclusion, this needs to be more than a tick box exercise.
Graduate recruiters are facing the challenge of engaging the interest of students from black and minority ethnic groups without being accused of making a token gesture under the banner of “equal opportunities”. BME students are not a homogeneous group, and should not be viewed as “other”, solely united by their perceived differences. “You have to avoid a blanket approach and be more strategic,” says a graduate recruitment manager from one of the big accountants. “Recruiters should review their assessment procedures and see where different ethnic groups are failing. Our research showed that BME students score lower in some assessment centre exercises, for instance, so we now run targeted workshops and business games to support them.”
Recruiters are working together more closely with ethnic student societies in order to demonstrate a more bespoke offer to different BME groups. It provides recruiters with an insight into specific and often culturally derived issues and concerns about the recruitment process.
Many organisations are also encouraging their BME employees to participate in mentoring and other support schemes run by university careers services, which enables them to offer BME students a personally relevant insight into their business and a chance to discuss their reservations or anxieties privately.
While graduate recruiters are taking steps to introduce more refined strategies for attracting BME applicants, the issue of encouraging ethnic diversity within their workforces is as prevalent as ever. Although around 12 per cent of UK universities’ undergraduates are from BME groups, a Runnymede Trust survey revealed BME representation at senior management level is less than 1 per cent in some FTSE 100 companies.
Graduate recruiters are still therefore continuing to participate in more transparent diversity initiatives, with events and activities targeting BME students happening across the UK.
Here at the University of Manchester for example, we will be running our Ethnic Diversity Fair again on 8 October, with exhibitors from all sectors including Goldman Sachs, NHS, Tesco and The Civil Service. This event is open to students from any institution ( www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/fairs ).
Banking on your Talent, on 26 November in Manchester, will be attended by four investment banks and targets BME students from four selected universities. Although events of this kind are intended to attract and encourage BME applicants, it is important for those attending to realise that it is still important to make the right impression on the exhibitors. Doing some research, dressing smartly and preparing relevant and intelligent questions are the golden rules.
Graduate recruiters attend these events because they want to promote their organisation to BME students, to help them understand that there are plenty of opportunities within their organisations and that BME students should seriously consider making applications.
But once a BME candidate applies, they will be measured against all others, subject to the same assessment procedures, selection and rejection criteria. BME students should certainly take advantage of targeted events on offer to them, but should not take anything for granted.
Competition for graduate positions is getting tougher as the effects of the debated yet increasingly imminent recession start to bite. As with any other undergraduates, BME students need to approach their job search with commitment, professionalism and determination.