Race inequality hit the headlines this week as alarming figures show the number of ethnic minority youngsters who have been out of work for more than a year has risen to almost 50%. Inevitably, we see the usual political debate over who has made the most progress on equality of opportunity. But nevertheless, it is an ongoing concern.
A few years ago, there was an All Party Parliamentary enquiry into BME female employment, and this showed how in particular Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women consistently faced higher levels of joblessness than those of white women.
And back in February, there was the Aiming Higher report by the Runnymede Trust which looked at inequality and diversity challenges in the HE sector; across the board from student admissions and experience to staffing levels, there is certainly room for improvement in British universities. Again, we see ethnic minority groups likely to experience higher levels of unemployment, even if they have a degree.
So this got me thinking why, despite our rich history of immigration, integration, equality legislation, record numbers of BME people going to university and various positive action programmes, are we still witnessing this sorry state of affairs?
We’ve seen lots of different theories and explanations for BME disadvantage in the job market, and each are equally valid, but I think the most crucial is the lack of networks and role models. Contact with professionals, experts and people in influential positions is undoubtedly one of the most important ways of finding jobs and opportunities.
And this is where mentoring comes in. We all hear about the benefits of having a mentor; boost to confidence, clarifying goals, insights into careers, but the key for disadvantaged groups is access to opportunities and networks that people wouldn’t normally have.
The power of mentoring shouldn’t be underestimated. As I mentioned in my personal intro, I ran an award – winning careers mentoring scheme for several years, and BME students were one of the groups I worked with. I could write a post just on the difference having a mentor made to these students’ lives. Mentoring was not just a “nice thing” for employers and businesses to do, it radically changed lives and career prospects. I couldn’t ever forget one of our star mentees, who stood up at our annual awards event and practically reduced the audience to tears, as she emotionally spoke about attitudes she faced towards her race, disability and being a single parent. With low confidence and self – esteem, she went on a journey to become a much more positive focused individual having realised her full potential. And it was her mentor that played a part in that journey.
To be fair, we do see that mentoring programmes have and continue to play a crucial role in helping to break down barriers for disadvantaged groups. Certainly across HE, there have been a number of very successful career mentoring programmes. There is also the well established Mosaic programme which uses mentors to raise the aspirations of young people from deprived communities.
However, some mentoring programmes can unfortunately be short lived, funding often being a big issue. We definitely need to see more organisations provide effective and structured programmes with a focus on long term results, and not just short term solutions. But there is much individuals can do to seek their own mentors, and I’ll be exploring this in future posts.
If anyone is considering setting up a mentoring scheme and would like any tips and advice, please feel free to get in touch with me, I’d be happy to share my expertise and experience!