Rowena Forbes: In a competitive job market, it pays to research all your options and be prepared

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The Independent Online

In today’s well-established multicultural society, many students may wonder whether diversity initiatives in graduate recruitment are necessary. |Is targeting “diverse groups” in itself simply a form of discrimination against young, white, straight, male individuals who don’t have a disability?



The unfortunate truth is that discrimination in the workplace remains a fact of life. Research from the Office for National Statistics show that, in general, individuals from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds are over twice as likely to be unemployed than their white peers.

Equally worryingly, figures released by the Commission of Racial Equality this year revealed that out of over 5,000 complaints received over the previous six months, 43 per cent of them were linked to employment. These included allegations of workplace bullying, hindered career progression and inability to gain interviews. Further to this, the Employment Tribunals Service reported a 23.7 per cent increase in the number of race discrimination cases submitted to employment tribunals from 2005 to 2006.

The good news is that a growing number of employers are waking up to these facts and figures, and are seeking to tackle the issue. Diversity recruitment practices are treated as a crucial part of the solution by many graduate employers; indeed, many major recruiters now employ specialist diversity recruitment managers.

Diversity recruitment is regarded as particularly important in certain industries whose workforces are traditionally under-representative of diverse groups. The media is a prime example; the Skillset Employment Census reveals the representation of ethnic minorities in the media to be notoriously low, less than 8 per cent. Diversity recruitment strategies demonstrate the commitment of employers within such industries to redress the imbalance and develop a workforce that better represents the broad social and cultural mix of modern Britain.

By targeting employers who are going out of their way to prove their diversity credentials, BME students are able to maximise their chances of employment in industries and organisations that are claiming to value and need their input. This can mean not only looking at companies’ diversity recruitment strategies, but also finding out more about any measures put in place for continuous support in the workplace. Such measures could include “positive action” schemes, diversity training for staff and membership of relevant groups, such as Business in the Community’s (BITC) Race for Opportunity diversity employment support network.

It’s a good idea to start researching suitable employers early on. University careers services will have plenty of relevant information about diversity, including schemes that work to improve BME representation in the workplace, such as the Windsor Fellowship. They also run events and activities that include the input of graduate employers.

Other sources of relevant information and vacancies include websites such as Black and Asian Grad (www.blackandasian|grad.ac.uk) and Ethnic Jobsite (www.ethnicjobsite.co.uk).

A stint of work experience, should provide a useful insight into the working environment and culture of an organisation, and will have the added advantage of looking impressive on a CV. Some employers also run “insight” days when students are invited to visit their organisations and learn more about what it’s like to work there. University careers services should have information about these.

Students should also look out for specialist careers events with a diversity theme. The Ethnic Diversity Fair at Manchester is one of the largest and best-known such events in the UK, and is an ideal opportunity for students and graduates to speak to a number of graduate recruiters who welcome applications from people with diverse backgrounds. The annual career fair takes place this year on 11 October and includes representatives from high profile companies across a variety of industries.

Attending exhibitors will be offering graduate vacancies and work experience opportunities, as well as information about their organisations, including details on any diversity initiatives that they have in place. A full, up-to-date list of exhibitors is available on www.manchester.ac.uk|/careers/fairs and click on The Ethnic Diversity Fair.

It is important to prepare thoroughly for the fair. Browse the websites of attending organisations to find out more about them. Prepare some intelligent questions to ask. Dress smartly and bring copies of your CV. This is an opportunity to make a first impression on a potential future employer – make sure it’s a good one.

The Ethnic Diversity Fair in Manchester takes place on 11 October at The University of Manchester’s Sugden Sports Centre, from 11am to 3pm

Rowena Forbes is from The Manchester Leadership Programme, Careers and Employability Division at The University of Manchester

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