Open boardroom eyes to overlooked talent

The Government’s equal pay commission has propelled women’s financial
inequality up the workplace agenda. But pay gaps don’t just exist between men
and women. The magic circle excludes people because of their disabilities,
their race and their sexual preferences.

Like women, many ethnic communities face two kinds of discrimination in the
UK labour market – less access to higher status occupations and lower pay for a
given job. People with disabilities experience above average levels of
joblessness and when employed their jobs are more likely to be low status.

Martin Luther King’s belief that "education is more than ever the
passport to decent economic positions" has been enthusiastically
recognised by many of the groups that employers appear to value less. Staying
on in full-time education after compulsory schooling is more common among
ethnic community groups than white young people, with ethnic minority students
making up 13 per cent of undergraduate students.

But despite fretting over productivity gaps and skills shortages, employers
are slow in making use of these educational advantages. Why? Largely because of
inertia and a reluctance to think creatively, which in turn reflects a lazy
acceptance of workplace norms. It is not the ability, talent, creativity and
determination that these marginalised groups clearly possess that employers
want, it is workers who will fit into a prevailing culture where the accent is
on conformity and where the implications of diversity seem too challenging.

Women often survive in the workplace by seeking out female-dominated
industries or by modelling themselves on male language and conduct. Many gay
people hide their sexual preferences, their behaviour reflecting an
organisational culture which explicitly disapproves of their choices. And too
few working environments make provision for the 5.2 million disabled adults in
Britain.

Nothing illustrates this more than the higher reaches of organisational
hierarchy, where decisions are taken and cultures created. Overwhelmingly white
and male, boardrooms perpetuate their same old character. To change requires
taking a risk, which is a step too far.

It’s a situation that impoverishes all of us – the groups who aren’t allowed
to feast at the table, the organisational cultures that overlook talented
people and the society that sees but tolerates repeated injustice.

The Industrial Society argues that businesses that want to compete in the
modern world can’t afford to ignore the skills, talents and perspectives of
these significant minorities.

By Will Hutton, Chief Executive, The Industrial Society

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