Our sector has a problem with race

Jul 27, 2020 | Sector & policy

Opinion: Stephen Isherwood, ISE’s Chief Executive.

If four-fifths of employers state that improving the racial diversity of their intakes is a priority, if universities are required to significantly reduce gaps in access, success and progression for students from all backgrounds, why are the attainment and employment statistics for black students so poor?

The death of George Floyd has emboldened people to call out the racism they have experienced in the workplace. Racial discrimination is a problem within graduate recruitment and it’s no longer enough for employers to blame the education system and say we’d recruit more black students if the talent was out there – it is.

How many of the outreach programmes universities and employers fund, how many unconscious bias training courses, how many overhauled selection processes, actually result in more black graduates joining graduate training programmes?

Too often, we overlook the B in BAME. According to the employers who completed our last annual survey, 24% of 2019 graduate hires were BAME when 25% of first-degree graduates were BAME. Superficially, our stats don’t look too bad. But when international students hired, a broad definition of race and social class biases are taken into account, many ethnic groups, particularly black men, are significantly underrepresented on programmes.

We also have to face the reality that student recruiters and careers advisors are predominantly white. If this debate were taking place on the floor of an ISE or AGCAS conference this year, how many black people would be in the audience?

To be on the right side of history, employers and universities need to act to drive concrete change to who gets hired and gets on.

‘We are committed to…’ statements aren’t enough anymore. Boldness to change who gets hired and genuine experiments with recruitment and selection are sorely lacking in our industry. We are making a start by pulling together members who want to explore new ways of working and are willing to take some risks.

As Femi Bola OBE said on our recent webinar, “To improve the diversity of your intake you need to hire more black people”.

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