Recruiting for a better social mix

In the light of Trevor Phillips's recent warning about racial integration, what are employers doing to increase diversity? Kate Hilpern reports

We are a society which, almost without noticing it, is becoming more divided by race and religion," believes Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality. If we continue sleepwalking into segregation, he warned in a speech last month, we'll find ourselves living in a Britain of passively co-existing ethnic and religious communities, "eyeing each other uneasily over the fences of our differences".

But while Mr Phillips focused on the critical need to encourage integration in both schools and universities, employers also have a crucial part to play - particularly when you consider that ethnic minorities are failing to secure a fair chunk of the graduate job market. Various reports reveal that while black and Asian people are more likely than their white counterparts to go into higher education, they face more problems getting jobs.

Part of the problem is that they are less likely to go to the universities and study the courses that are traditionally considered the most prestigious and they are also less likely, on average, to do as well in degree performance. A further problem lies in the fact that work experience is becoming increasingly important to employers, says Terry Jones, spokesperson for AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services). "Work experience is often likely to be available to those with a connection or with the money to support themselves - both of which can put ethnic minorities at a disadvantage," he explains.

He adds that some graduate recruiters still see diversity as a box-ticking exercise. "They say they welcome ethnic minorities, but actually they're still looking for people who are like them - the ones who wear posh suits and speak like them."

Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Channel 4 News presenter, says of the industry he works in, "A reasonable number of middle-class, educated, mainly Asian people are getting to reasonable positions, both on and off screen in the British media. What hasn't happened is anything that really reflects the diversity of the ethnic minority population in Britain."

It doesn't help that some ethnic minority groups traditionally apply for a relatively small number of professions. Sanjay Shabi, who helps clients of the organisation MediaCom understand cultural communities in the UK, provides the example of many young Asians applying exclusively to professions like pharmacy, dentistry and accounting. "The influx into the UK that peaked in the 1960s consisted mainly of people coming over here to further economic progress, not only for themselves but for their families back home. Inevitably, the pressure to meet economic needs is instilled upon the generations that have grown up here since, and many are conditioned to get jobs in the classic professions," he says.

Fortunately, many employers are waking up to the business case for ethnic diversity and are actively seeking to overcome these kinds of problems by attracting ethnic minority graduates into a broader range of sectors. Besides being able to tap into a wider talent pool, many are also seeing the difference that avoiding segregation makes to profitability. "Gone are the days when organisations were interested in ethnic diversity simply from a do-gooding point of view," says Sandra Kerr, director of the Race for Opportunity (RfO) campaign. "Today's employers who are doing something about ethnic diversity realise that if you're good at race, you'll make more money."

Indeed, this year's RfO survey estimated the value of ethnic diversity to its members at £13.3m. Jenny Nixon, organisation development consultant for Bupa - the "most improved" private sector employer in the survey - believes one reason for this is that when a company establishes a respectful culture, employees are more likely to enjoy working there and deliver exceptional customer service. "We track employee satisfaction and it has improved with our focus on race diversity," she says. "It affects our bottom line."

While there are a huge number of ways in which employers are appealing to the rich vein of talent provided by ethnic minorities, some are proving particularly successful. The Metropolitan Police Service - which, like most police services, is suffering from a shortage of ethnic minorities - is among those focusing on getting the message across that graduates won't have to compromise their religious beliefs. Simon Marshall, director of recruitment at the Met explains: "We know Muslim communities, for example, have lots of questions about working for us. Our latest ads show that dress code, leave arrangements and catering within the police service are designed to accommodate all religious beliefs."

Amna Ahmad, a 24-year-old graduate who works for BT, knows how these graduates feel. "When I applied for graduate positions, I thought I might find it harder because I'm a Muslim woman, which means I wear a hijab and pray five times a day. But I found employers to be very accommodating," she says.

Like many graduate employers, BT belongs to the Employers Forum on Belief and has faith-based networks, including a Muslim network. "This was something I found helpful, as it allows you to network with different people at different levels," she says.

Other successful efforts by employers include working with recruitment agencies that agree to produce diversity shortlists, and targeting universities and courses with high proportions of ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, formalising work placements - and in some cases offering a number of placements exclusively for ethnic minorities - is encouraging a wider range of students to apply. Many employers are working with organisations like GTI, the National Mentoring Consortium and the Windsor Fellowship to provide other exclusive opportunities for black and Asian students. Ethnic diversity careers fairs are also increasingly popular, as is the creation of a "diversity champion" at the top level of an organisation.

The finance sector, which is particularly keen to reflect the communities which it serves, has moved forward leaps and bounds in its attempts to diversify. Andrew Wakelin, senior manager, equality and diversity at Lloyds TSB, says, "We have worked specifically with ethnic minority graduates and their families to show them that banking is a worthwhile career. We have also made the imagery of our literature far more inclusive."

Lloyds TSB has also focused on helping managers understand how to manage race - something that a fast-growing number of organisations are doing to ensure that an inclusive attitude is permeating through the company.

In order to make sure the message sticks, Balvi Macleod, a consultant on culture change and diversity, injects some merriment into her workshops by incorporating traditional Indian dancing.

"My aim is to take diversity a stage further by winning hearts and minds, having some fun and celebrating multiculturalism. If you want to convince people of the merits of diversity, I believe that you need to link it to their lives," she says.

Patrick Johnson, who chairs the joint race equality working group for AGCAS and the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), reports that as more and more companies find pioneering ways of attracting new talent, they are learning from each other. They can also learn from organisations such as his. "Our main role is to make recruiters more aware in terms of what ethnic minority students have to offer and to make sure the selection process is as fair as possible," he says.

Something that has become increasingly clear is that while some companies may have large percentages of ethnic minorities applying to them, they are falling down at the first hurdle, he says. The civil service has transferred the initial stage of its Fast Stream recruitment process online for this very reason. The idea was to make the recruitment process easily accessible to all, including those who do not traditionally see the civil service as a career option. To bring more ethnic minorities through the Fast Stream process, the organisation is also weighting cognitive and competency tests differently. Research over many years has identified the problem of negative impact on ethnic minorities where cognitive reasoning is concerned.

Olivia McKendrick, graduate recruitment partner at Linklaters law firm, points out that some sectors, such as law, are so committed to improving their ethnic mix that they are focusing on schools and universities, as well as graduates. "We've learned that you need to get to people early, at the point when they're making career choices. So a lot of our work is about knocking down perceptions at that stage. We still hear of teachers and university lecturers telling students not to bother applying to big firms like us because we mainly take middle-class white males, which simply isn't true."

Kofi Owusu-Bempah, a trainee solicitor at Linklaters: 'I certainly don't feel I would miss out because of my ethnicity'

When I was considering law as a career, the stereotype of the legal profession being male and middle-class soon emerged. That made me very conscious about the firms I applied to. I had gone to a London state school and a very multicultural university, and I didn't want to work anywhere where there hadn't been at least some efforts to become ethnically diverse. Linklaters fit that mould.

That may be why I haven't been made aware of my ethnicity since I've been here. I certainly don't feel I would miss out because of it.

I've just started my second of four seats on my training contract here at Linklaters. The first was in the investment management group and my current one is in the projects practice.

It is hard to get into law, but the rewards are many if you do. I particularly enjoy the learning process and discovering new areas of law, as well as the technical side of things. I also enjoy the client interaction and one of the things I get most satisfaction from is when a client sends you an e-mail to say what a great job you've done.

Ayesha Ghanchi, trainee curator of the coins and medals department of the British Museum: 'Museum work is often perceived as being for the privileged'

I've always been interested in education - in inspiring people and opening up knowledge - but not necessarily in a formal setting like a school. I used to work in a library, but a museum is better because of the amazing resources.

Having completed my degree in art history in 2003, I started my job here a year later. My main role is audience development. An example of a project I've been involved in is one called Diversity and Dialogue. It's about young people picking objects around the museum and writing interpretations of them, with the overall aim of promoting dialogue between young people of different faiths.

This sector finds it difficult to attract ethnic minorities. I think part of the problem is that museum work is often perceived as being for people with privileged knowledge and education, but the reality is different. The British Museum is taking many initiatives to diversify their audience and their staff. I enjoy being part of that.

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Primary Teacher

£90 - £150 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Upper Key ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £115 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary NQ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £115 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary NQ...

PE Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices