Employees from a BAME background are significantly more likely than those from a white British or other ethnic background to say career progression is an important factor in their working life. However, they are more likely to say their career to date has failed to meet their expectations than white British employees.

Executive summary

There is a significant lack of racial diversity at the top of UK organisations. This is unacceptable in 2017. Addressing racial equality is a societal issue, a moral issue, and a business issue. It must be a priority for business. 

Everyone should have equal access to work and opportunity to reach their potential, regardless of identity, background or circumstance. For too long the need for change has been recognised but not acted on, and although we have seen some shift in board composition, we haven’t seen it in practice to the extent or at the pace required. There’s been notable progress on gender, albeit only over the last seven years, and we need to build on the successes of campaigns that have increased female representation at the top of organisations to now make significant strides with ethnic diversity.

As well as there being an undeniable moral case for change, the diversity of ideas, perspective and ways of working afforded by people of different backgrounds and identities will benefit individuals, organisations, society and the economy. In addition, we’re already seeing changing population demographics in terms of ethnicity, age and other personal characteristics, which means the employers already taking action will be on the front foot in being able to attract talent from a wider talent pool.

Around 14% of the UK working age population come from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, and by 2030, it is expected that the proportion will be closer to 20%. Without action to develop inclusive workplace cultures where people with a diverse range of identities and backgrounds feel able to perform at their best and progress in their organisation, we face an underutilisation of talent through not enabling everyone to achieve their potential. And we should be further spurred on by the potential for change at a workplace level to influence wider societal change.

Given it’s the leadership at the top of an organisation who are the main influence on its culture, values and ethics, if they’re not a diverse group, what message does that send out to employees, customers and wider society? 

High-profile government-initiated work has set the stimulus for action on racial diversity, and at the CIPD we believe we have a role to play in influencing and supporting employers to drive sustainable change in their organisations. The HR profession has a central role in making this change happen, being ideally placed to challenge and address people management practice at all stages of the employee lifecycle to ensure it is built on the fundamental principles of trust, equality, fairness and inclusion.

We recognise that employers may be uncertain about where to start, especially smaller organisations without an HR function or people management professional to provide insight and guidance. This isn’t an excuse to not do anything or to shy away from conversations about race – instead, it’s a signal to industry bodies, including the CIPD, to be providing additional insight, support and guidance for employers and sharing learning from organisations who are already on the front foot, examining barriers to access and progression within their business context.

This report makes three distinct contributions to driving change.

First, we provide an overview of some of the major research and policy papers over the past five years, bringing together in one place what we know about the extent of ethnic inequality and what we know so far about where the barriers to in-work progression lie. 

Second, we present the results from our new survey research into the career blockers and enablers experienced by workers from different ethnic groups. In this report we present the findings from the survey of 1,290 UK employees, 700 from a BAME background and 590 white British. We compare the working experiences of BAME and white British employees working in the UK as well as comparing how views on working life differ for Asian, black and mixed-race employees. In the survey we asked questions about the work-related factors affecting career progression, the employee’s relationship with their line manager (given their significant influence on career progression), development opportunities people feel they have, satisfaction with career progression to date, and the overall culture of the organisation.

Third, we include case study examples of practice from three organisations that are actively driving change and identifying and removing barriers to access and progression for ethnic minority groups. Some of the practices they’ve adopted include seniorlevel sponsorship and commitment to change, mentoring, unconscious bias training, reviewing recruitment approaches and examining what their HR data is saying about the work experiences of their BAME employees to inform evidence-based decision-making. We hope the further insight in this report will help employers to take action and create more inclusive workplaces which attract diverse talent and enable that talent to work together effectively, for the benefit of individuals, the business and wider society.

Note on the CIPD’s current position on terminology

We recognise that any one term will not resonate with everyone. As such, we advise employers to be sensitive in the language and terminology used when talking about race and ethnicity, being sure to engage and invite input from both their own staff and external experts. At the time of writing the above report Addressing the barriers to BAME employee progression at the top, the use of the term BAME was used by a range of groups such as government departments and public bodies.

However, the CIPD now follow the Race Disparity Audit’s recommendation, referring to ‘ethnic minorities’ rather than the terms BME/BAME, which highlight particular groups while omitting others. BME refers to black and minority ethnic, while BAME refers to black, Asian and minority ethnic. Research conducted by the Race Disparity Audit suggests that very few people recognise these acronyms, while few ethnic minorities identify with them. However, both terms are widely used by government departments, public bodies, the media and other groups when referring to ethnic minority groups in the UK. We therefore reference the terms BME and BAME only in relation to research that has already been conducted using these terms, such as the government review by Baroness McGregor-Smith and previous CIPD research, like this report. 

For more information on the CIPD’s stance on race inclusion in the workplace, please refer to our viewpoint and other resources on our Tackling racism in the workplace hub.

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