Ethnic minorities still shut out of top professions?

A new report points to 'blatant and shocking' racism within some of the highest-paid professions.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When former communities secretary John Denham said earlier this year that society is more comfortable with racial diversity than ever before, the UK gave itself a congratulatory slap on the back. But research out today suggests there’s much more work to be done: ethnic minorities apparently still feel doors are closed to them in some of the UK’s top professions (despite evidence suggesting they’re actually more driven than their white counterparts). Another one for the coalition government’s lengthy to-do list, perhaps...

The report, by pressure group Business in the Community (based on a survey of 1,500 people) says that law, politics and the media in particular are considered closed shops by ethnic minority candidates. 44% felt politics wasn’t for them, while nearly a third were turned off by media; half took a similarly dim view of the armed forces. This seems a shame, to say the least – particularly since they’re noticeably more driven than white Britons (44% of whom say success is important to them, compared to 59% overall).

Another alarming finding was that one-fifth of ethnic minority staff have experienced racism at work. Some of the abuse was ‘blatant and shocking’, the report says; one person said they had been told that ‘all Muslims are fundamentalists’. Others said the racism had been more subtle: some said colleagues assumed they couldn’t speak English, which they unsurprisingly found highly insulting.  (And the police continue to have a bad name: half of those studied - including 72% of black Caribbeans - still feel the force is institutionally racist. Almost 10 years after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, that’s a pretty damning indictment of progress.)

That said, some of this seems to be about attitudes and perceptions as much as actual racism. For instance, a third of those who didn’t apply to the armed forces said it was because their family wouldn’t approve. With the best will - and the best diversity programme - in the world, there isn’t much that can be done about that. Equally, some of those who suggest professions like law are closed shops just aren’t even trying: a third of respondents decided it was too ‘hard’ to get a job in the media, and a quarter said the same about becoming a lawyer.

The authors accept that big employers have taken ‘great strides’ to rid themselves of racism – and it’s surely true that overt racism in the workplace is now much less common than it’s ever been. But as this report shows, some of the UK’s biggest employers have still not convinced ethnic minority candidates that they’ve changed sufficiently – possibly because of the lack of senior role models in these professions. This will hopefully change with time. But we shouldn’t assume the problem has already been solved.

In today's bulletin:

Osborne takes a chance with FSA regulatory shake-up
BP cancels divi and pledges $20bn ahead of Hayward's US grilling
Boardroom bonuses bounce back
Ethnic minorities still shut out of top professions?
Taking a hard line with latter-day Robin Hoods

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