Fair representation of Black people in the recruitment process

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2019 Water, Environment & Transport Conference
21 February 2019
Carried as Amended

In 2009, the Department for Work and Pensions embarked on an experiment to understand the scarcity of non-white faces in top managerial posts in UK organisations. 2,000 fake job applications were created in response to 1,000 real vacancies across multiple sectors, professions and pay grades. Similar CVs – one with a “traditional Anglo-Saxon” name and one with a name that appeared to come from a migrant community – were sent to employers.

This bold initiative was met with resistance from image conscious business leaders who labelled the experiment “unethical”.

“A waste of taxpayers’ cash” was the label given by Theresa May, who was the Conservative shadow minister for work and pensions at the time.

The results conclusively showed that applicants with British-sounding names were far more likely to be called to interview for a position than those whose names were of another heritage.

Ten years later, it perhaps comes as no surprise, that Black people in Britain’s top managerial posts or positions of power are noticeable by their absence and this is no different within the WET sector, for example the executive team for Thames Water does not have a Black person.

Research conducted last year by the Guardian and Operation Black Vote found just 3.5 percent of non-white faces at the top of the UK’s leading 1,000 plus organisations, compared with 12.9 percent in the general population. The lack of representation is much worse along gender lines, as it found Black women occupied less than a quarter of the 3.5 percent.

In her independent review of race in the workplace, Baroness McGregor-Smith found that Black people are much more likely to be found to be overqualified for their jobs than white colleagues, but white employees are more likely to be promoted than their Black counterparts. This is also reflected in the high number of Black applicants for STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) related studies, but these applicants are so very rarely seen in any senior position in the WET sector. This clearly shows that the credentials, experience or potential of those who identify as Black are there, the only issue is they don’t receive the support to progress in their chosen careers.

Conference is clear that many of our Black members continue to experience unfair representation during recruitment, more so for senior roles. It is not a glass ceiling keeping them down but a concrete one. To compound the issue, there is also a lack of mentoring or career development. Black members who can and do develop their skills are being rebuffed in the recruitment for managerial roles but then are given more responsibilities, but still paid disproportionately less than their white counter part doing the same if not similar role.

Conference calls on the WET Service Group Executive to:

1) Work with the National Black Members Committee to produce guidelines for regions and branches on how to negotiate inclusive and fairer recruitment and selection polices with employers;

2) Consider how to motivate those employed in the WET sector to improve career progression for Black staff;

3) Approach UNISON’s Learning & Organising Services and discuss how best to support the initiative in point 2.