The higher education sector has recognised the challenge posed by the Black Lives Matters movement.
Whether its response has been appropriate and sufficient has been hotly debated across the pages of Wonkhe and elsewhere. This debate has tended to be inward looking, focusing on the curriculum, listening to the Black student voice and tackling racism within the institution. These are all important topics, but it is also critical to think about what happens when students leave university and move into the labour market and wider society.
Black heritage graduates’ experience
The Institute of Student Employers has just published a new report entitled Black Careers Matter looking at the transitions of Black graduates into employment. In a country where Black workers earn an average of £1 less an hour than White workers and where applicants for jobs from ethnic minorities have to send 60% more applications to receive the same number of call backs as White candidates, it is critical to focus on the experience of racism and discrimination during the transition to employment.
We polled the membership of ISE, which is made up of employers, career professionals and others involved in supporting graduate transitions. The overwhelming majority (90%) agreed that young people from Black heritage backgrounds face additional challenges in the labour market. While 82% of our employer members agreed that improving the diversity of their organisation in terms of race and ethnicity was a key priority.
To understand this better we conducted a series of 11 interviews with students and recent graduates from Black Heritage backgrounds. They felt that when you are Black you need to work harder to be successful and talked about how challenging it is to work in all-White environments. They complained that the education system was not successfully preparing anyone to work in the multi-ethnic workplace and noted that people from Black heritage backgrounds were often absent from recruitment processes. They argued that organisations needed to commit to more diversity at all levels and that White people needed to make more of an effort to understand their experience and treat them with respect.
Five steps to ensure that Black Careers Matter
The research with students, graduates and employers demonstrates that there is a clear problem. Black heritage graduates are under-represented in some of the best graduate jobs and often face challenges once they are employed.
Thankfully our research also provides evidence of initiatives, which universities, employers and other bodies are taking to increase racial justice. In the report we present 30 case studies designed to improve the career education, transitions and employment of Black heritage students and graduates.
We have drawn on the experience of the students and employers and on the case studies to propose a five step way forward for student employment.
- Stand together against racism
- Prepare all students for diverse workplaces
- Turn recruitment into a force for equality
- Maximise the potential of Black hires
- Transform your organisation and influence the world around you
Preparing all students for diverse workplaces
Higher education providers have a particularly critical role to play in Step 2: Preparing all students for diverse workplaces. Britain is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country. We should all expect that our working lives will be surrounded by people with different backgrounds to us and view this as a strength and an opportunity.
The education system should ensure that everyone learns about a range of cultures. This should include learning about racism and inequality in the workplace and how to challenge it. It is important that this is not seen as a ‘Black issue’, but rather as a core competency that everyone needs to be successful in multi-cultural Britain.
This means that issues of race, racism, bias and inequality need to be openly talked about within careers and employability education. This approach needs to recognise and address the needs of Black students, providing them with space to discuss the issues that they are concerned about and preparing them to confront the challenges that they might experience. Employability programmes also need to engage White students in thinking about race and racism and considering how they can play a positive role.
We know that effective career and employability provision actively involves employers. Universities should attend to the ethnic diversity of the role models that they bring into the institution and make sure that students from Black heritage backgrounds get access to employers and to internships and placement opportunities. Employers should be universities’ allies in supporting graduates careers and both careers services within educational institutions and employers should feel comfortable to challenge each other to do better on issues of racial justice.
Finally, it is important for higher education providers to attend to their own diversity and representation. There is a need to increase the level of diversity within the education system and in careers services as well as making a more active commitment to tackling racial injustice. Creating a diverse graduate workforce cannot be left as an issue for employers to deal with alone.