Racial gap in unemployment figures partly reflects biased hiring practices

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Black and other ethnic minority candidates seem to be at a disadvantage

compared to white applicants when it comes to appling for jobs

There is plenty of recent evidence which shows that unfair recruitment processes and other factors are putting black and other ethnic minority jobseekers at a distinct disadvantage compared to white applicants.

Earlier this year the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released official statistics which revealed a significant racial gap in unemployment in the UK, with a 45% jobless rate for young black people (aged 16-24) compared to 19% among whites of the same age. The rate for young-mixed race Britons was 26%. These shocking figures show that the unemployment rate for young black Britons is more than double that for their white counterparts. This margin of difference is too great to put down to chance. Clearly there are factors working against black and other minority ethnic jobseekers to hinder their career success and progress.

Racially biased hiring practices affect even those black and minority Britons who are generally considered to have ‘made it’ career-wise. Common are the stories of black British models who have come up against racism when it comes to castings. Carol White, founder of model agency Premier (widely considered the UK’s top modelling agency), has said that, "It's a lot harder to start a black girl than a white girl, for a number of reasons […] There's not so much work for them, and sometimes photographers and makeup artists are scared. They don't know how to light or make them up properly so it takes a lot longer . . . It's a slower process." In June black British comedian and actor Lenny Henry criticised the BBC’s approach to diversity.

Lenny Henry discusses lack of diversity in British media

The reasons for the racial gap in unemployment are numerous. A racial gap in access to higher education must be considered a key factor. With the cost of attending university having trebled to approximately £9,000 a year (excluding living costs) for most UK students, black and ethnic minority students found themselves hit particularly hard since members of the BME population are twice as likely to live in a household that is classified as low-income.

Then there is the racial inequality of access to the country’s leading – Russell Group – universities, whose graduates tend to be at an advantage when it comes to finding graduate careers. There has recently been much attention on the amazingly low acceptance rates for black students at Oxbridge. Commenting on the tiny percentages of black and minority students at Oxford and Cambridge, MP David Lammy wrote: "Universities are not like supermarkets: their job is to serve the country, not just the customers who happen to walk through their doors."

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Black graduates can find themselves at a disadvantage

For those young black people who do manage to make it through university the struggle often continues when it comes to looking for work. There is strong evidence that discriminatory hiring processes work to limit the numbers of black and other minority candidates within workplaces where those candidates are just as qualified for the job as white applicants who are more successful. Samuel Kasumu, founder of Elevation Networks, a youth charity which helps those traditionally underrepresented within the labour market increase their employability, said: “We found black students are concerned about what their future once they graduate, many of them believe the odds are firmly stacked against them.”

Research initiated by the Department for Work and Pensions found that "foreign"-sounding names put job applicants at a considerable disadvantage. The research involved applications being sent out using three different names: Nazia Mahmood, Mariam Namagembe and Alison Taylor. The findings of the study were that for every nine applications sent out, an applicant who ‘sounded’ white would receive either an interview invitation or a positive telephone response. In comparison, just one in sixteen applications from those with a foreign-sounding name received a similarly encouraging response. This significant research led to demands that CVs and job applications be analysed anonymously to avoid racial bias when considering the candidate’s suitability for the job role.

A lot of work needs to be done so that black and minority candidates do not have to think that they are already at a disadvantage – or wasting their time – when they write their African surname on a job application, tick the box next to ‘Black British’ or attach a photo to their CV.

Even when black graduates do find work, they can expect to earn as much as 9 per cent less over five years than a white graduate doing identical work, according to a report by Deloitte.

Also not helping the situation of disproportionate black unemployment is the continual cutting of public sector jobs, particularly NHS jobs, since ethnic minorities are over-represented in public sector work – especially health and social work jobs.

The director of the Jobs Economist thinktank, John Philpott, said that the gap in youth unemployment cannot be attributed solely to the economic recession that Great Britain is still recovering from. "The persistence of a large unemployment rate gap between ethnic minority and white youth nonetheless suggests there is a larger structural element to the problem of youth unemployment for ethnic minorities that won't be solved by a stronger economic recovery alone," said Philpott.

Whilst unemployment among ethnic minorities has always been disproportionately high in the UK, the latest figures are worrying because they show a rise where white unemployment has remained relatively constant, slightly falling in fact (between 2012 and 2013).

There are, however, a number of institutions and employers who recognise the great benefits that diversity brings and proactively seek to ensure that their workforce is made up of people from all sorts of backgrounds. For black and minority jobseekers, whether graduates or not, there are a number of incredibly useful programmes and websites which promote internships and jobs specifically aimed at ethnic minorities. These will tend to include vacancies at companies which are renowned for welcoming ethnic minority applicants and advice on how to give yourself the best possible chance of securing your dream job.

For further advice about job opportunities for ethnic minorities or to find your ideal job today visit the websites below: