A Business in the Community Initiative

Race to Progress

Executive Summary / Introduction

British workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in the UK show high levels of ambition and motivation. More than three quarters of BAME employees describe themselves as ambitious and say that career progression is important to them. There is no ceiling to ambition: a majority of workers hold aspirations to lead an organisation. However, there is still a ceiling for BAME workers’ career progression. They enjoy fewer promotions over their career than their white counterparts.[RG1] A majority believe that they have been overlooked for promotion at least once in their career. A fifth of some minority groups have never had a promotion. Perceived barriers to career advancement include a shortage of promotion opportunities, a lack of support or poor relationships with their manager, rather than worries over their own qualifications or experience. British people of African and Caribbean origin are most likely to be aware of racial discrimination as a barrier. On the positive side, concerns over lack of opportunities and managerial support are much lower in businesses that are BAME-managed.

Perceived barriers to career advancement include a shortage of promotion opportunities, a lack of support or poor relationships with their manager, rather than worries over their own qualifications or experience. British people of African and Caribbean origin are most likely to be aware of racial discrimination as a barrier. On the positive side, concerns over lack of opportunities and managerial support are much lower in businesses that are BAME-managed. BAME workers are very clear about what they require from their workplace but find that these needs are not met. The most commonly cited factors for joining or staying with an employer were: that the organisation values its workers; there are fair pay arrangements with a bonus scheme; and appropriate training is available. Yet two-thirds of workers said their employer did not provide what they were looking for.

When it comes to promotion, white British workers, who were the least motivated by promotion, received the highest number of promotions. A white British employee has an average of almost four promotions during their career. However, British African, Indian and Pakistani employees have been promoted an average of just 2.5 times. The good news is that despite feeling under-promoted, under-paid and not fully supported by their managers; this has not dampened BAME workers’ confidence. The bad news is that while seven out of ten BAME workers are confident about what the next step in their career will be, nearly half feel that they have to leave their current employer to progress, compared with less than a third of white Britons. Indeed, more than a third of African workers said they were currently looking for a new opportunity, implying that they did not feel their current employer had made the most of their high levels of enthusiasm and motivation. Only a small number of BAME workers felt they would never need to look for another job. Worryingly, well over half of BAME workers believe they are treated unfairly by recruitment agents when being put forward for roles. The survey highlights evidence of racial discrimination, with African and Caribbean workers particularly feeling discriminated against. A quarter of African workers and one in seven Caribbean workers said they had been unfairly treated in the workplace because of their ethnicity. These rates are still far too high for 21st century Britain. BAME workers show a strong appetite for taking on roles in people management and project management, which are key stepping stones for career advancement. However, the evidence points to a need for employers to encourage and facilitate a move for BAME workers into these roles. There are gaps in some of the main support mechanisms that would help ambitious workers from a BAME background progress up the career ladder as fast as their ambition would indicate. There is a mismatch between the demand for access to training, mentoring and networking in their workplace and their availability, especially for ethnic minority workers. These are the invisible mechanisms that enable all workers to reach their goals in a modern 21st century workplace. There is a strong appetite for mentoring in the workplace, yet there is a shortage of mentors for BAME workers.

There is also a need for support and guidance when it comes to networking. In all cases it is hard to understand why employers have failed to deliver on these fronts. Training, mentoring and networking are relatively low-cost initiatives, which makes them appropriate for these austere times. Yet they would clearly deliver dividends to employers and their stakeholders as well as the employees themselves. Organisations should see this as having the potential of a win-win situation. In particular, employers have to ensure that BAME workers have access to fast track courses, which in turn means that more BAME workers are accelerated into roles that are seen as the launch pad for fast track promotion. There are as many differences between ethnic minority groups as between ethnic minority workers and their white colleagues. African workers have shown levels of ambition, motivation and appetite for promotion way above any other groups, while Chinese and white British workers score lowest in many indicators. This report points to the need for the government and employers to address some of the most urgent problems raised and to take action to tackle the more long-term issues to ensure that the country enjoys genuine equality in its workforce and greater economic growth and prosperity for all.