Overcoming discrimination at work and in society



Posted in: Analysis/Comment, Employees, Speaking Out

Overcoming discrimination at work and in society

June 01, 1999


The construction industry has a strikingly low number of employees from black and minority ethnic communities, compared to other sectors, a comprehensive University of London study commissioned by the Construction Industry Training Board has found. Of the 1.8 million people employed in the industry, only 1.9% come from a minority ethnic background, even though they make up 6.4% of the working age population nationally and much more in certain regions.

Racist attitudes are rife. Just over a third of those working in the industry describe their experience of training or working life as different from their white counterparts; nearly four in ten have experienced name-calling and one in four experience harassment, bullying and intimidation. Although 97% of construction companies have equal opportunity policies, only half monitor their impact and fewer than a third say they have an action plan to implement those policies.

The University of London report was prepared in May and recommends a programme of action to open up access and increase representation through pilot studies, formal recruitment procedures as opposed to word of mouth, work with sub-contractors, specific targets and changes in culture. Contact Bill Yates, CITB, on 0171 600 7700


Evidence that minority ethnic businesses suffer discrimination at the hands of the big high street banks is hard to find, according to a Bank of England special report. But the perception may be as important as the reality, for example by deterring applications for credit. Published on May 20, The Financing of Ethnic Minority Firms in the UK urges action to create better relationships, with the banks redoubling their efforts to recruit more staff and develop niche marketing.

The report says most banks already recognise that minority businesses represent a significant and growing sector, estimated at 7% of the small business stock and 9% of start-ups in 1997. Currently minority ethnic communities constitute 5% of the total population, although that figure is set to double over the next 25 years. Contact Adrian Piper, Bank of England, on 0171 601 4878


West Bromwich Building Society became the first West Midlands business to champion the Race for Opportunity campaign in the region, it was announced on April 9. The campaign has over 130 members around the UK and aims to help businesses to benefit from better links with the UK’s minority ethnic communities, whose purchasing power is worth œ14.9 billion. West Bromwich BS sponsored and hosted a careers event in April for a hundred school pupils from minority ethnic communities, highlighting job opportunities with the Society and other major firms, such as the BBC and Cadbury’s, which already support the campaign. Contact Zena James, BITC, on 0171 224 1600


The Better Regulation Taskforce, led by Northern Foods chairman, Lord Haskins, says new anti-discrimination legislation is not the best way to promote equality of opportunity. Instead, existing regulation must be made to work more effectively, it argues in a report published on May 12. In particular, it wants to see:

all employers made more aware of their existing obligations;

employees given greater support to seek redress when victimised;

evidence of anti-discrimination practices included in Investors in People and the Business Excellence model;

large firms to ensure anti-discrimination policies are operating in their supply chains.

The Taskforce also wants the repeal of the Asylum and Immigration Act rules which require employers to identify possible illegal immigrants among applicants. Contact Cabinet Office Enquiries on 0171 270 1234 (http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk)


The McPherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence called on all institutions in society to examine their procedures to ensure that both intentional and unintentional racism is eliminated.

The McPherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence called on all institutions in society to examine their procedures to ensure that both intentional and unintentional racism is eliminated. Construction may be the worst example but it certainly is not the only industry with serious and urgent work to do.

This is a mainstream issue for all departments of the company. But what are the implications specifically for community affairs programmes and their managers? First, have you even posed the question – does our programme offer equal access to black and minority ethnic community groups? Do you track the types of organisation applying for help and their success rate, because if not, how can you tell?

Second, who actually benefits from your programme? Your policy probably targets socially excluded people, issues like underperformance at school and long term unemployment. If so, black and minority ethnic communities should be getting a bigger share of resources than their 5% of the national population would indicate, because of concentrations of discrimination and disadvantage.

Third, help the business to respond, as Mark Blake and David Grayson argue in an article later in this issue. For example, a volunteering opportunity with a voluntary group in an inner city area might help a white sales executive to understand the whole market better. A short-term development assignment might give a black junior manager experience denied at work, and so demonstrate ability. The bottom-line is that neither good intentions nor awareness is enough. Positive action and monitoring of outcomes are essential.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 46 – June, 1999