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The representation of black and minority ethnic people in business in Cumbria

What should we try to do to increase the representation of black and minority ethnic people in business in Cumbria?
Article from Marcia Reid Fotheringham, BECBC's next Patron:

Cumbria is a place where people of difference (BAME community) are a true minority. Based on Cumbria County Council’s statistics, the BAME community within Cumbria accounts for 2.8% of our population. Remember that while Cumbria does its best - there are high levels of discomfort and too many stories of unacceptable behaviour/actions for anyone of difference to automatically feel welcome. That makes Cumbria less attractive for people of difference. In light of that, the notion of attracting more diversity within the workplaces of Cumbria is somewhat daunting. However, it is worth realising that Cumbria’s largest employer of the BAME community is the NHS. If they have managed to attract minorities, so can other businesses. It can be done! But why and how?

All businesses, employees and communities need to understand the reality and strengths of supporting a diverse work environment. Diverse companies include people of different genders with a variety of ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. Studies have shown that diverse teams/workplaces are more innovative. An inclusive work environment improves employee retention. And perhaps the most important factor for business owners, diverse companies have higher profits. It’s a smarter way to do business in the global market. However, this is more than an item to be checked off your business-branding - it’s a real competitive advantage that takes work and creativity to achieve.

When thinking about how to do this, it is about doing things differently. Before starting outward, the culture change must start inward. The business needs to create a culture that is welcoming and supportive of people of difference. All companies should have real, effective anti-harassment and anti discrimination policies that are supported by all; that means that just words are not enough. List/highlight your commitment to diversity on your site(s) by listing it as one of your company’s top values. Be transparent. Make it part of your mission and vision statements. Create a committee that will implement your new or revised policies.

Diversity can be just about numbers; inclusion is about behaviours. You need to show people that inclusivity is welcome and valued. Trying to not discriminate is not the same as being productively supportive and inclusive of diverse policies and employees. Get leaders (employees with influence) to set a good example. Leaders should speak openly and honestly about wanting a more diverse workplace; more inclusive of all - race, religion, gender, etc. Communicate and discuss diversity policies regularly and clearly.

Provide diversity training to make sure everyone understands why you have/need a diverse, inclusive workforce. All employees should understand that hiring decisions are based on finding the best candidate - and not by quotas. Making the recruiting process more transparent will help ease the minds of skeptical employees. Unfortunately, there will be employees who are not supportive of encouraging a diverse environment. (For evidence of this, look at Cumbrians’ general negative reaction to trying to increase the BAME community’s access to the Lake District.) So all managers need to understand the benefits of a diverse workplace. They need to create/support the practice within the workplace. Everyone in your business must learn how to avoid biases in recruitment and in the work environment. Hold group meetings for employees - ask for and encourage input and feedback on your plans or policies. Including employees as you develop these types of policies will encourage buy-in and decrease predictable, sometimes unconscious, opposition.

Once the workplace culture has been improved, it’s time to look outward - to work on attracting a diverse set of candidates for consideration. These are general (not in priority order) suggestions:

  • Ask for referrals from employees - both black and white. Let your workforce know the intent - to diversify. Especially ask leaving employees.
  • Advertise in diverse areas: Come to Cumbria! Work in Cumbria! But be clear about job descriptions. Talk to community organisations (MultiCultural Cumbria, AWAZ, etc) to help find candidates. Churches, mosques, and/or cultural institutions should be included to expand your searches; also include other more diverse cities/communities.
  • Describe what makes your company a good place to work. Emphasise things that will attract a more diverse candidate. Highlight your commitment to diversity in your job descriptions. Highlighting benefits such as daycare, flexible schedules and letting new hires know that you are willing to accommodate cultural and religious holidays will help. Highlight community things like ethnic restaurants or specialty markets.
  • Recruit from diverse talent pools; include veterans, disabilities, LGBTQ, those over 40, Rotary-type Clubs, etc. in your talent pool.
  • Advertise jobs through diverse channels - place your job ads in additional magazines, websites and forums dedicated to minorities. Post your job on diverse job boards. Yes, it means you’ll need to search for them.
  • A controversial (not necessary the best) notion - offer employee referral bonuses to your employees who recommend diverse candidates who are hired.
  • Include an article about your business’s diversity plan and its goals in employee and customer publications.
  • Design marketing materials with diversity in mind. Show what you mean or want by showing photos with diverse people. (Please make sure you’re not always taking photos of the same BAME person!)
  • Host educational classes for the community as well as for your employees. An open seminar about the benefits of diversity is a start.
  • Create diversity recruitment videos - interview CEOs and employees - ask them to describe what a diverse workplace means to them.
  • Try to have a diverse interview panel - it sends a message. If you do not have a diverse interview panel, make sure that the panel you do have is willing to openly and comfortably speak about diversity issues with all potential candidates. Your interview panel should also include a discussion about whether the potential BAME candidate (assuming that is who you are interviewing) has considered or ever lived in a location that is not multicultural. For some, this is not a problem; for others it will be but concerns can be managed if voiced and/or discussed.
  • Remember the importance of value-based hiring - having well defined company values and emphasising them through the interview process. That means you must define and commit to a set of organisational values; making job descriptions, interview questions and employee evaluations reflect those values.
  • As the employer of people of difference, the NHS seems able to attract more - even in Cumbria. It is therefore worth advertising in NHS facilities (ie hospitals, dental and medical centres, etc). This is not to attract NHS workers but to possibly create interest from their family members and/or friends. That widens your candidate pool.

To communicate this:

  • Send a press release to local media - about the development and establishment of a diversity program that focuses on enhancing the culture and effectiveness of your business. It should list how you’re planning to do this.
  • Assuming you hire a more diverse population, know that minorities moving to or living in Cumbria can feel disconnected. Because Cumbria is 98% white, you need to take a more active role in helping minorities adjust to the culture at work as well as in their communities.
  • Set up mentoring programs to build close working relationships with other employees. Good mentor relationships often result in friendships.
  • Allow minorities (and all employees) to have a voice within the business. They will be and feel more valued.

It is important to be patient and stay with your diversity plan. It has taken a very long time for employers to want to even slightly embrace diversity; it will take much time and many challenges to change/improve our current culture.