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Systemic Racism In Employment Must Be Tackled

Despite a significant increase in the numbers of black and minority ethnic (BME) young people entering higher education, BME students are less likely to attend a Russell Group university or leave university with a first class or 2:1 degree compared to their white peers. The backdrop to such discrepancies in accessing higher education and achieving the highest grades is the systematic discrimination faced by many students.

Perhaps the only surprising element of such discriminatory practice is that it happens in plain sight. The Independent recently reported that black students are 21 times more likely to have their university applications investigated for suspected false or missing information compared to white students (). Examples of such institutional racism regularly make front page news: it almost feels as though those responsible do not feel the need to hide their actions.

Obviously it’s not just in higher education that black and minority ethnic people are disadvantaged. Upon leaving university, they continue to experience racism and discrimination in the labour market. In my new book, White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society I argue that in the labour market, BME groups find themselves positioned as outsiders in a system that continues to reward white privilege.

Evidence suggests that employment rates for those from BME groups are lower than those from white groups.There is also variation across ethnic groups and labour market participation, with Black groups more likely to be unemployed, followed by Asian groups.

Black and Asian groups are also more likely than white groups to be in insecure forms of employment; less likely to be senior managers or in decision making roles and more likely to be paid less than their white counterparts. It is also important to recognise that differences in labour market experiences will vary by intersections of class and race. Higher education qualifications do not make a difference to these inequalities. Recent research suggests that black workers with degrees earn 23.1% less on average that white workers with degrees.Higher education qualifications do not make a difference to these inequalities.

Recent research suggests that black workers with degrees earn 23.1% less on average that white workers with degrees. Whilst getting a good education may be a strategic choice for many BME families to counter discrimination in the labour market, this does not in itself reduce the ethnic penalties that BME workers experience once they enter the labour market.

Instead BME groups are more likely to be in jobs for which they are over-qualified and are less likely to find employment in the first place compared with their white peers. A recent report published by the TUC found that 1 in 3 BME workers reported being bullied, abused or singled out for unfair treatment in the workplace; shockingly 42% of those bullied or harassed reported their direct manager as the main perpetrator and 41% of women reported wanting to leave their jobs because of bullying and harassment but could not afford to. Furthermore, when BME workers raise concerns about racism, they often face isolation and are not believed by senior managers that such behaviour is taking place. 

White privilege in the labour market is an example of covert and overt processes which work to keep BME groups excluded from senior decision making roles and positions of power. Whole sections of the labour market, in particular highly paid decision making roles and the ‘professions’, remain the preserve of White people. Such jobs are instrumental in reinforcing the power and status of the people who occupy them. In order to maintain a status quo in which their own positions of dominance and advantage are protected at whatever cost, other Black identities are positioned as being inferior and of less value.

Kalwant Bhopal is professor of education and social justice in the Centre for Research on Race and Education at the University of Birmingham. 'White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society' was recently published by Policy Press.