Equal opportunities in employment – a tick box exercise?

(CC) Image by Koonisutra on Flickr

Our guest blogger Priscilla Maramba writes about equal opportunities. In her opinion employers in Scotland despite all the talk of equal opportunities still have some way to go. She thinks that it would be necessary to do an impact assessment to see whether the policies and procedures in place are increasing the diversity of the workforce by removing barriers faced by ethnic minority job seekers.

by Priscilla Maramba

Priscilla Maramba is a volunteer with Migrants’ Rights Scotland. Having previously worked as a solicitor, as a volunteer CAB advisor and community worker, she currently works for an equalities organisation in Scotland, supporting ethnic minority people to access employment and training opportunities. She feels very passionate about real equal opportunities.

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I have always thought that when it comes to who should be given a job, it should be about what that person has in their head and not their accent, color of skin or ethnicity. I also thought that employers, with all their massive policies and procedures on equal opportunities, are committed to work towards making equal opportunity a reality in Scotland.  What with the ‘One Scotland Many Cultures’ Government lovely and inspirational slogan?  What with the Fresh Talent Initiative?  And the encouragement to employers to make their organizations to represent communities that they serve?

I also thought that with so much discussion about the ageing population which is said to be acute in Scotland and an open encouragement by the Scottish Government of migration to Scotland, employers are more than willing to work towards opening employment opportunities to people of ethnic minority background in order to make equal opportunity a reality.  I thought there will be a warm welcome to migrant communities who comprise of people with various skills, talents and a wealth of experience from various countries to the enrichment of Scotland.

What I have observed however is the opposite of what I thought. I have come across, seen and heard of many people from ethnic minority background with high qualifications working in jobs that have nothing to do with their qualifications. I have come across, seen and heard of many such people who have written some 50, 80 or over 100 applications for employment without even making it to the interview stage. During my life in Scotland, I have engaged with different mainstream service providers who are themselves employers but I did not see visible ethnic minority people among their staff.

At one point I made field visits to banks, retail stores, careers advice, jobcentre plus, CAB, local authority and even hairdressing salons and I did not see a single ethnic minority person inside. My heart sank and I began to realize that we have a long way to go in Scotland.

My view is that there is no real commitment on the part of employers to make equal opportunities in employment a reality by way of opening up job opportunities for ethnic minority people. The sad thing is that some ethnic minority people are now from the second and or third generation but they still get painted with the same brush. I think it is all about legal compliance on equality legislation. There is no desire to do an impact assessment to see whether the policies and procedures in place are increasing the diversity of the workforce by removing barriers faced by ethnic minority job seekers.

For me, any employer who is serious about equal opportunities is seen by how they advertise their jobs and where; how they recruit, select and retain staff from ethnic minority background. They also show by what capacity they employ them because for me, if an employer has ethnic minority people all working as machine operatives, that is no equal opportunities.

This is even worse if those employed as machine operatives have qualifications that make them eligible for jobs of a higher level. Equal opportunities is not about ticking boxes of compliance with equal opportunities law.  It is about taking active steps to advertise jobs where ethnic minority people will see those adverts, making strategic decisions to level the playing field by taking positive measures to tackle barriers to employment faced by ethnic minority people, and retaining those who would have succeeded in gaining employment.

Without this, we will continue to have valuable skills and experiences from ethnic minority people wasted due to under-employment or non-employment.  We will continue to have mainstream services that cannot adequately serve other parts of their communities due to lack of understanding of their specific cultural needs.  There is widespread low uptake of a lot of services provided by mainstream service providers.

This could be changed by employing more people from ethnic minority background.  We do not want to continue to have an ‘us and them’ thinking in Scotland. This leads to continuous exclusion and tensions in communities, something that we must all fight against.

We desire to have a fairer Scotland and this can only happen when employers move from ticking boxes to counting the numbers of ethnic minority people employed by them. It cannot be a fairer Scotland when certain job opportunities are a no go area for some sections of the community.  It cannot be a fairer Scotland when certain sections of the community are known to do jobs that others do not like regardless of their qualifications. It is time to do things differently.

So, what do you think?