Race equality is a matter for the law

Mandatory race pay reporting and unconscious bias training would help ensure the British workforce better reflects the wider population, writes Paul…

Ministers must commit to fighting racial prejudice in the workplace by safeguarding and strengthening existing race legislation.

They must also guard against populist slogans. Any policy that emphasises "British jobs for British workers" will only serve to foster further racial division.

There has been a spate of reports about race disparity over recent years, and this month the Cabinet Office published the findings of its race disparity audit, warning that the data alone could not "determine the causes of any differences observed between ethnic groups".

The causes of racial disparity are not singular. It is clear that societal systems obscure opportunities for some groups and outcomes are impeded by underlying attitudes even where opportunities are given.

Various factors create the hurdles faced by people from particular groups, but apportioning blame on culture or religion is unhelpful. A wider perspective is needed to ensure that the analyses carried out over several reports are followed up with tangible actions.

The McGregor-Smith review, published in February, emphasised the structural bias that pervades the workplace, depriving the economy of the benefits of a fully diverse workforce. And the Parker review from November last year highlighted the paucity of ethnic minorities in the boardrooms of Britain.

The Employment Lawyers Association made several recommendations in response to both reviews, including the imposition of mandatory race pay reporting similar to that being conducted in relation to gender pay.

That would be an essential step in addressing systemic preferences. However, the government must ensure that adequate enforcement measures are in place for those employers who do not to conduct race pay reporting.

The association endorsed other measures, including the reintroduction of the race equality scheme and statutory guidance; encouraging employers to provide unconscious bias training; and setting targets so that workforces more closely reflect the general population, with employers made to give reasons when they miss the targets.

Another suggestion was for the government to brings section 14 of the Equality Act 2010 into force to allow challenges for intersectional discrimination to be brought more easily. For example, at present there is no effective legal remedy for black women or disabled people from ethnic minorities.

These measures may just be a start, but putting them in place will speed up the process of eradicating racial discrimination in the workplace.

Paul McFarlane is a partner and a member of the Employment Lawyers Association's legislative and policy committee.

This article first appeared on The Times' Brief Premium website, on 31 October 2017, and is accessible online.

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