6 minute read 14 Jun 2021
Man and woman having a discussion on a zoom call

Employers must act to remove the barriers faced by young Black people

Authors
Hywel Ball

EY UK Chair and UK&I Managing Partner, Ernst & Young LLP

UK Chair and UK&I Managing Partner. Leading our 17,000 people in the UK. FTSE 100 audit partner. Father of three and Welsh rugby fan.

Maryanne Matthews

EY Foundation Chief Executive

Passionate about helping young people across UK to realise their career ambitions. Over 20 years’ experience across public, private and voluntary sectors. Chief Executive of EY Foundation.

6 minute read 14 Jun 2021

This report explores how businesses can unlock the potential of young Black people – based on a survey of over 1,000 UK respondents.

In brief
  • We’ve surveyed 1,000 young Black people in the UK to understand the employment challenges they face.
  • Our findings show that incremental change is not enough; a step change is needed – and it is the responsibility of employers.
  • Change will take concerted collaborative action. It will require listening to the voices of young Black people in schools and workplaces across the UK.

Our latest report, Getting in and getting on (pdf) – Unlocking the potential of young Black people in the workplace, is based on an independent survey of over 1,000 young Black people across the UK who are currently in work, looking for work or still in education.  

It paints an unacceptable yet sadly familiar picture – despite a strong desire to succeed, young Black people continue to be denied the opportunities open to others. This is not only in terms of accessing jobs, but beforehand at school and again when they enter the workplace. Many young Black people feel that both the way promotions are awarded and how work is allocated can limit their career progression.

Despite a strong desire to succeed, young Black people continue to be denied the opportunities open to others.
Hywel Ball
EY UK Chair and UK&I Managing Partner, Ernst & Young LLP

To share just three of our survey findings, although 92% of young Black people have firm career goals, only 13% believe that their ethnicity does not present any barrier to entry to their professions and 26% report that, once they are in work, their ethnicity represents the main barrier to promotion.

Time for a step change

Our findings suggest that incremental change is not going to be enough; a step change is needed – and it must be driven by employers. Or, as Ryan Makuku, EY Foundation Youth Advisory Board member, puts it: “This should send a simple message to employers – do better. Do better to impact the communities you operate in. Do better in enabling social mobility. Do better in changing lives”. 

As a major UK employer, EY and the EY Foundation (an independent charity launched by EY in 2014 to help young people from low-income backgrounds into work), have publicly made a series of commitments (see also EY Foundation’s commitments) to anti-racism backed by clear targets. However, we are aware that our organisations are just one part of a bigger picture, so we continue to engage with other employers and organisations, such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), with the aim of tackling this injustice together. 

This should send a simple message to employers – do better. Do better to impact the communities you operate in. Do better in enabling social mobility. Do better in changing lives.
Ryan Makuku
EY Foundation Youth Advisory Board member

What we found

You can examine the survey results in more detail, but these six points act as a useful summary: 

1. Young Black people are ambitious

With many having clear career goals and expressing confidence in achieving them. However, recent school leavers say that they lacked connection with universities and received poor careers advice. 

2. Social background is an additional barrier

With our research suggesting that those in education from low-income backgrounds are less confident that they are on track to achieve qualifications.  

3. Some sectors are harder to enter

Law and accounting, banking and finance and business consulting are the sectors in which young Black people believe that they are most likely to face barriers to entry due to their ethnicity.  

4. Many young Black people experience workplace racism

From recruitment to promotion and the way work is allocated. Racism from clients, customers and suppliers was the highest reported workplace incident, which is more challenging to address as the perpetrator is not part of the business or organisation. 

5. Young Black women are more likely to experience workplace and sector barriers

But less likely to receive feedback when applying for promotion or benefit from supportive policies in the workplace. 

6. More progress on workplace policies is needed

Even though most workplaces are reported to have at least some diversity and inclusion practices or measures in place. 

Why it matters to us 

At EY Foundation, our mission is to reduce the barriers to work that many young people face, supporting them to successfully transition into higher education, employment or self-employment. Although we do not place an explicit focus on ethnicity, 83% of the young people we supported in our last reporting year came from a non-white background and 31% were from a mixed Black background.

EY Foundation is committed to supporting young people.

83%

of the young people we supported in 2019/20 came from a non-white background

Across EY, our purpose is Building a better working world – and it’s abundantly clear that we are not going to be able to do that without addressing racial inequality. In fact, the business case and moral imperative are aligned: it is the right thing to do in terms of addressing inequality and also the right thing to do as a business because diverse perspectives, combined with an inclusive culture, also drive better decision making, stimulate innovation, increase organisational agility and strengthen resilience to disruption. 

Taking action

Our survey findings make clear that concerted action is required by all employers across all industries. You can explore the key actions (pdf) that employers need to take and discover the progress EY and EY Foundation are making, but in summary:  

1. Improve access 

Employers must work together to enable Black young people to understand the career opportunities open to them by the end of their first year in secondary school. For example, by using technology, visits and sharing experiences to help young Black people better understand the career paths and opportunities open to them. 

2. Increase inclusion 

Employers must take action and measure outcomes to make sure that they are fully inclusive of young Black people. For example, by having better data and reporting as well as improving culture, recruitment, mentoring and accountability. 

3. Take a zero-tolerance attitude to racism

Employers must adopt a zero-tolerance policy for both overt racism and repeated acts of covert racism. This should apply whether racism is experienced internally or from external parties such as customers and suppliers. For example, by improving culture, reporting, training and consultation, coupled with a willingness to take action when standards are breached. 

4. Tackle barriers to entry 

Employers must take joint action to address the barriers to entry. This should be led at CEO level and should be a priority for the Law and Accounting, Banking and Finance sectors. For example, by CEOs taking visible leadership, implementing reverse mentoring and collaborating with CEOs across their sector.

Summary

We do not underestimate the challenge that lies ahead, nor do we believe that, even with the policies and procedures that we recommend, the job will be done. It will take concerted individual, corporate and collaborative action, but perhaps most of all it will require listening – to the voices you will hear in this report and in your own workplace. They are telling us that not being racist is not enough – we must be actively anti-racist in order to make a difference.

About this article

Authors
Hywel Ball

EY UK Chair and UK&I Managing Partner, Ernst & Young LLP

UK Chair and UK&I Managing Partner. Leading our 17,000 people in the UK. FTSE 100 audit partner. Father of three and Welsh rugby fan.

Maryanne Matthews

EY Foundation Chief Executive

Passionate about helping young people across UK to realise their career ambitions. Over 20 years’ experience across public, private and voluntary sectors. Chief Executive of EY Foundation.