Are diversity recruitment schemes successful in increasing inclusion and equality in the workplace?

Diversity recruitment schemes are gaining traction, but are they an effective method to increase racial diversity in the workplace?

The last decade has dramatically altered the British landscape, which changed again due to Covid-19. However, what does employment look like in the British job market?

Employment figures

In 2019, before the pandemic, 78% of white people were employed, yet only 66% of people from all other ethnic groups combined were in employment - matching with population statistics where the UK is mostly white.

GOV.UK employment figures use the total working-age population from people aged 16-64 years old.

The lowest employment rate (56%) was the combined Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnicity group.

Although this number may seem low, between the years 2004-2019, the combined group soared from 44% to 56%.

Between 2004-2009, people from the Black ethnicity group increased from 60% to 69% in 2019, and ‘others’ jumped from 55% to 63%.

With the increasing number of people from ethnic backgrounds seeking work, diversity recruitment schemes have begun to gain popularity.

But do they work and are they reflecting the changing society we see before us?

What are diversity recruitment schemes?

Diversity recruitment is the process of intentionally hiring people from under-represented backgrounds - including people with disabilities.

The schemes are also often known as Positive Access Schemes (PAS), as they help train people from under-represented backgrounds to enter industries previously unavailable to them.

Creative Access is an organisation that provides “progressive career support and development for talent from communities under-represented in the creative industries.”

When asked about the inspiration behind their scheme, they said: “Our starting point was a critical need to combat the lack of representation in the creative industries and progress the conversations around equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I).

“The creative economy represents and reflects modern society. The Positive Action Schemes help improve access to careers in the creative industries for people from communities that are under-represented in the sector.

“We wanted to help people from under-represented groups get employment through providing training opportunities, enabling them to get a “foot in the door” and then use this as a springboard to launch their careers."

With the opportunity to access roles that perhaps were not previously available, PAS provides a platform for many under-represented people to advance in any industry.

Anoushka Dossa, director of recruitment at Creative Access, said: “Over the past year, we have delivered diversity and inclusion training to over 3,000 participants, provided mentoring to 1,400 individuals and run 33 masterclasses for 2,940 participants.”

Why are companies recruiting via diversity schemes?

As society evolves, the working environment also needs to start mirroring the world around it. Having important roles that are only just starting to be filled with Black and Minority Ethnics (BME) displays a deep lack of opportunity for BME people.

Companies recruiting via diversity schemes perhaps portray a genuine interest in providing that accessibility and opportunity to under-represented people.

As Creative Access is an organisation working with companies, they provide an informed insight. Dossa said: “(Hiring via PAS) shows employees/contacts their company is serious about making a change to the current workforce.

“Recruiting via PAS is a great way to find new and perhaps underexposed talent in the creative sector.”

Do Diversity recruitment schemes work?

Micha Frazer-Carroll is a freelance journalist who previously worked for The Guardian, after being accepted via their Positive Action Scheme.

Being part of this recruitment process, she said: “It was valuable because it gave me first-hand experience of working in a newsroom and helped me foster relationships with journalists that I am regularly in touch with today.

“(But) I know not everyone has this experience on various work experience schemes.”

In recognising their limits, Frazer-Carroll said: “The question of whether they (PAS) ‘work’ is complex. They do work in opening up young marginalised people to more opportunities in the industry. From what I have seen, they do play a crucial role in making the industry more diverse on a broad level.

“But structural inequalities do not start and end at the entry point – for example, there are still race pay gaps across the industry, few people of colour in leadership positions, and people of colour often find themselves on a freelance or precarious contracts in the bottom ranks of organisations.

“Positive action schemes marginally address these problems, but they by no means fix them. It’s also important to consider that some of these schemes are unpaid, and most are in London, both of which are barriers for many people.”

In regards to whether diversity recruitment schemes work, Dossa said: “Yes; diversity recruitment fulfils the criteria with the right people and allows for full progression throughout the company.”

However, the employment market is saturated, with an increasing amount of people looking for work relevant to their qualifications. With high demand people who are unable to meet increasing requirements often fall behind.

With internships and graduate schemes on low pay, barriers form, and it can be argued PAS are only available to those who have the freedom to be flexible.

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