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What can universities do about the Black recruitment gap?

  • 6 September 2021

Today’s blog was kindly contributed by Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, Co-Founder and Trustee of 10000BlackInterns. Dawid is on Twitter @Dawid1.

UK industry is predominantly male and pale. Everyone knows it and, in the last decade, various initiatives and campaigns have attempted to change at least the gender bias. The 30% Club, for example, has a global mission ‘to reach at least 30% representation of all women on all boards and C-suites globally.’ Policymakers have introduced regulation designed to bring about greater balance, with medium to large employers now obliged to report their gender pay gap. It turns out what gets measured, gets managed. Jack Blundell, author of a recent study, Wage responses to gender pay gap reporting requirements, said:

The gender pay gap is closing – this research shows that making employers accountable for their pay gaps can result in significant changes to pay, with employers narrowing their pay gaps to attract and retain workers.

This so-called ‘wicked problem’ pertains to more than the gender imbalance endemic in our corporations. There is an equally troubling dynamic around racial representation in the workplace. In investment management, where I work, there are currently only around 14 Black people managing money in the UK. That is out of over 3,000 individuals who do that job. It seems extraordinary, but it should not be a surprise.

A recent report by the Social Market Foundation revealed that Black graduates are 12% less likely to gain a first class degree than White students of comparable backgrounds. Black graduates earn less than White, Asian and mixed-race graduates six months after graduating. Only 25% of Black graduates earn above £25,000 compared to 38% of Asian graduates and 30% of White graduates. Asian and Black graduates are less likely to be in graduate-level employment than White graduates and 80% of White graduates in employment are employed full-time, compared to 70% of employed Black graduates. One of the report’s conclusions is that:

more needs to be done to ensure that not only do universities and the government focus on widening access to university but that attainment and outcomes after university are considered equally as important.

This is a crucial recommendation alongside the observation that:

It is commonly known that differences within broad ethnicity groups such as “Black” and “Asian” are often as wide as they are between “BAME” and White”. Due to data limitations, we are not able to produce analysis at a lower level of ethnicity breakdown.

In summary, race-related data is not captured for long enough or in sufficient detail.

For example, policymakers, universities, employers and the media tend to be demographically imprecise. Too often, ‘BAME’ is used as a catch-all for all non-White people. I have never understood why and presume it is down to a historical nervousness of describing someone as ‘Black’. Or, perhaps, it is just a lazy, simplifying assumption that all non-White people are basically the same regardless of whether their roots are in India or the Gambia. Whatever the reason, BAME is an unhelpful acronym which inevitably results in a lack of attention to detailed cause and effect across entire cohorts of students and employees. A firm may assume its racial balance at senior level is perfectly reasonable based on its BAME categorisation when in reality there are no Black employees in or above middle management. This ‘bameification’ of UK ethnic minorities normalises headlines such as ‘11% of FTSE 100 board directors are BAME’. A recent report by Green Park more specifically highlighted that:

One of the most significant findings from our 2020 survey was that for the first time since we began our analysis in 2014, at the UK’s largest companies there are no black Chairs, CEOs or CFOs. This has remained unchanged in the six months since and is the unfortunate but rather inevitable outcome of having failed to increase black executive leadership, which remains at 0.6%, unchanged over eight years.

We are, as they say, where we are. The question is how to move forward from here.

When it comes to improving graduate recruitment, a first obvious step is for universities to measure and report on attainment and employment outcomes of Black students at a far more detailed level and over a longer time-period than is currently the case. Black students may be of West African, Caribbean or mixed heritage. These differences matter. And, instead of saying a final farewell to students at the end of their degrees, universities should retain an ongoing sense of responsibility and ownership-of-outcome. For five years after students graduate, universities should track, analyse and report on their employment outcomes.

Second, employers should strongly be encouraged to recruit from a wider field of candidates than the current modus operandi of hiring homogeneous candidates with similar degrees almost exclusively from the same universities. We should finally dispense with the myth that this ‘tried and tested’ approach delivers the highest quality candidates. Arguably, the devastating Global Financial Crisis of 2008 happened because a small group of undiverse, hubristic Ivy League-educated alpha males running the world’s largest investment banks competed to create ever larger credit derivative empires and – in the heat of battle – lost all sense of perspective and judgment. The result was a staggering loss of $2 trillion in global growth and several years of recession.

Third, as with the gender pay gap, the ethnicity pay gap should mandatorily be reported by companies with 250 or more employees. It bears repeating: what gets measured gets managed.

Fourth, universities must urgently address the lack of Black representation on teaching staff and in management. During my six years as a university governor this was invariably brought up by Black students. It is time to jettison the hackneyed excuses about a lack of suitable Black lecturers or executives. As Vice-Chancellor, it is your responsibility to look harder.

We can only diversify and improve the demographic landscape of the UK’s industries at the most senior levels if we take bold, ambitious and decisive action to intervene in the status quo. One current initiative worth mentioning is the 10000 Black Interns Program which has successfully convinced 750 organisations across 24 industry sectors to offer 2,000 paid internships to Black students and graduates every year for five years commencing in Summer 2022. The pilot programme (100BlackInterns) concluded in early September 2021 with 2,165 student applications resulting in 450 paid internships in the asset management industry.

The aim is to increase the intake of talented Black people so that, in time, our organisations are truly representative of society. The response from interns and employers alike has been exceptional and the programme points the way to wider societal change across other minority sectors also struggling to find representation at top table.

In the words of Andy Warhol: ‘They always say time changes things; but you actually have to change them yourself.’ 


  1. albert wright says:

    You are right to remind us about ethnic inequality and I am pleased to hear about the Black Interns Program and wish it every success. However, meaningful progress needs at least 5 generations.

    Closer gender parity has taken over 200 years and there is still work to do.

    Those with power and influence rarely wish to give up their positions. UK royalty has been around for millennia.

  2. Dasola Adegoke says:

    I enjoyed reading this! BAME is just another label that has been used to mask the real problem that is ethnic inequality. Thank you for using your voice to demand for change!

  3. Kwame Kusi says:

    Like the article but it seems like it’s trying to prove an existing opinion rather than explore the issue in totality. For example it mentions that to improve black graduate recruitment the obvious first thing to do would be to measure attainment and employment outcomes at a more detailed level. It goes on to mention 3 other recommendations. It seems as though the most pressing action would be to understand why black students are 12% less likely to earn a first class degree, as the article mentions itself, and also why black student levels of attainment are the lower compared to other ethnic groups. Is it that the type of degrees we choose to study are ones where language and writing style affect scores where the marking examiner unfairly expects a specific writing style, or are we just not achieving the grades necessary? The article seems to be written from the opinion that black people are doing enough to get hired at comparable rates as other races, when the 12% less likely to achieve a first class statistic suggests that’s not entirely the case and degree classification 2.1 vs first class etc is arguably the biggest or one of the biggest determinants of interview/employment opportunity. Would have liked that to have been explored more. Maybe marking style needs to change, maybe that attainment gap is down to secondary schooling, it could be a raft of different reasons but it seems glossed over here.

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