Pheona Matovu, Co-Founder, Radiant and Brighter
The Covid 19 pandemic has caused us to rethink, redesign and hopefully re-imagine a more inclusive society. As Scotland works towards economic recovery, inclusion of BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities is now more important than ever.
Continuously, research shows that BME communities in Scotland experience racism and discrimination, leading to years of unemployment and underemployment.
Findings from the 2020 Ethnicity and Diversity in The Scottish Workforce research done by Radiant and Brighter showed that, for people from BME Communities racism is a fact of life and ‘diversity blindness’ continues to exist, particularly among white men who see the problem of diversity and inclusion as largely solved.
Inclusion remains a challenge within Scotland’s workplace and wider economy. Solutions designed to increase inclusion of BME individuals, are largely inadequate, often problematising these groups. Attempts to address these challenges tend to use the ‘fixing people’ approach when in reality it is the systems that need to be fixed. Scotland has been slow at acknowledging that racism is a problem within the systems, processes and even ‘solutions’. ‘Institutional denial’ remains a challenge in a culture which has mastered the art of a ‘we need to do more’ response which in itself poses a problem as it is often nonresponsive and does not necessarily mean ‘we will do more’.
According to the ‘Race Equality, Employment and Skills: Making Progress?’ November 2020 research paper by Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, “progress has either been slow, stalled, or in the case of the ethnicity employment gap gone backwards” with a rise from 14.4% in 2017 to 16.4% in 2019. This report also states that 72% of BME women in Scotland experience racism and discrimination in the private sector, a figure which rises to 86% within the public sector.
It is known to BME communities, academics, and practitioners that the current systems and processes intentionally and/ or unintentionally exclude BME communities, yet, over the years, unemployment and underemployment within these communities has been met with solutions such as employability training. If we really are working towards inclusive growth, there is need to understand that employability training does not solve racism neither does it solve discrimination. Without challenging and changing the inadequate systems and processes we are driving a car with a flat tire and hoping to arrive at a destination which is still very far away from where we are.
Research also shows that migrants are natural entrepreneurs, and that diversity leads to innovation and increased productivity in the workplace. The Federation for Small Businesses (FSB), “Starting Over: Migrant Entrepreneurship” 2019 report findings showed that immigrant led businesses contribute £13bn and 107,000 jobs to the Scottish economy each year.
Scotland needs to recognise and appreciate both the contribution and potential contribution of BME communities. We must move from research and apologies to action. Leaving billions worth of contribution on the table must become a thing of the past in an economy where we need all the contribution we can get from the available talent and skills. We must create equal opportunity for everyone in Scotland to be able to contribute to our economy.
Senior leaders and decision makers need to take lead in the change we desire. Public sector agencies need to stop talking at these communities and start meaningfully partnering with BME led organisations who understand the problems and are best placed to help Scotland design better solutions and approaches.
We need to educate ourselves and include BME individuals, communities and organisations in decision making processes to ensure biases are not encoded in the design of our systems and ‘solutions’. The problem does not lie with BME communities whose experience, education and expertise remains unrecognised and unappreciated but with the systems which continue to exclude their vast potential and talent. Meaningful and relevant solutions need to be designed and delivered in ‘equal partnership’ with BME led organisations who are often not enabled with adequate investment to support mainstream organisations. In its ambition to continue as a global player, Scotland must now harness and unlock the untapped potential within BME communities.
As the African proverb says, if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go with others. The opportunity to ensure a more inclusive economy must not be missed now when we need even more diversity to ensure a more progressive, more productive and more innovative workforce.