Is ethnicity still a barrier to achieving career goals?

7 min read | Jason Dunwell | Article | Corporate social responsibility Diversity, equity and inclusion

achieving career goals

The conversation and work to improve Black representation at all levels in the workplace is important to me both personally and professionally, and I believe that achieving Black inclusion requires everyone to be informed and to do their part. So, having set up the Hays Black Network in 2021, I thought I’d spotlight the current state of play when it comes to equity at work for Black professionals, and how you can better empower them to succeed at your organisation.


At a glance: How to empower Black professionals to succeed at work

  • Embed employee networks
  • Support with executive sponsorship
  • Increase collaboration and safe spaces


Concern that inequity is still rife 

Organisations are increasingly aware of the need to proactively diversify their talent pipelines and hire inclusively in the long-term, but it’s clear that much still needs to be done to empower Black professionals and break down employment barriers. 

According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, employees from Black, African, Caribbean, or Black British backgrounds were consistently earning less than their White counterparts between 2012-2022. UK-born Black employees took home 5.6% less and non-UK-born Black employees earnt 12% less than their UK-born White colleagues – the biggest disparity among the ethnic groups.

A survey of Black Britons conducted by the University of Cambridge, meanwhile, suggests that racial prejudice in UK workplaces remains deep-rooted, with the vast majority of respondents (88%) saying they’ve experienced racial discrimination at work. In actual fact, almost all (98%) of those surveyed said they have had to alter their self-expression and identity to fit in at work – by changing their way of speaking or hairstyle, for example – with appearance and cultural background cited as factors affecting a lack of upward career mobility.


Ethnicity remains a barrier to progression

It's clear, therefore, that systemic inequity is continuing to permeate the modern workplace when it comes to ethnicity, and that this is perceived to be happening on a widespread scale. The question for organisations should continue to be: what practical action can – and should – be taken in order to not only improve career opportunities for Black professionals, but demonstrate their commitment to doing so to their employees?

"Employees from Black, African, Caribbean, or Black British backgrounds were consistently earning less than their White counterparts between 2021-2022.”


1. Embed employee networks to empower Black professionals

Dedicated employee networks not only have the power to celebrate the contributions of diverse communities, but to help businesses harness meaningful insights that will enable them to better their DE&I strategies.

Establishing a dedicated Black network is an effective method of forging a two-way conversation between an organisation and its Black employees. It also amplifies under-represented voices, helps to improve business representation, raises awareness of Black culture and challenges perceived barriers to progression.

If implemented correctly, employee resource groups allow organisations to channel support to Black employees, strengthen acceptance and allyship, improve recruitment and retention and drive social impact.

"Establishing a dedicated Black network is an effective method of forging a two-way conversation between an organisation and its Black employees.”


2. Support Black employees with executive sponsorship

Make employer networks more impactful with leadership involvement, e.g. a senior executive within the company who acts as a strategist and who has the authority to remove roadblocks. This kind of executive sponsorship can help bridge gaps in communication and align Black networks with wider business strategies.

Keeping conversations open between Black networks and senior leaders – concentrating on specific pain points within recruitment and retention – can be a good place to begin. Some employee networks, for example, have periodic listening sessions with their board of directors. This can give directors and executives the chance to identify where their hiring and promotions processes can be made fairer and more equitable, facilitating opportunities for talented Black employees seeking senior positions. 

3. Increase collaboration and safe spaces

Networks become much more valuable when they’re inclusive and open to allies – rather than being closed domains. Collaboration with other established networks and employee resource groups – such as PRIDE or LGBTQ+ – can further the shared goal of creating a sense of belonging for everyone. Value can be added to separate networks without detracting from their individual identity and significance.

Developing more inclusive networks is just one aspect of active allyship; it’s also important to cultivate safe spaces where honest and authentic dialogue can take place. Through these open environments, there is less chance of an organisation staying silent on the important issues that impact Black professionals on a daily basis.

Through collaboration and shared opportunities, we’re confident that organisations can collectively challenge the biased behaviours and institutionalised discrimination that persist across the employer landscape. Embedding networks is a valuable means of unlocking the potential of Black professionals, and unifying DE&I principles across an organisation.

To find out more about how to ensure your recruitment strategy is welcoming, positive and inclusive for all, then enquire about our DE&I advisory service, or for a more informal discussion about how to drive equity within your business, reach out to


About this author

Jason Dunwell is the Head of Solutions and Advisory for UK&I, helping organisations find the right solutions to their resourcing challenges and navigating the complex and ever-changing talent landscape through a range of HR advisory services such as DEI, Early Careers, EVP and Brand, Assessment & Development, Career Transition Services, Insights & Analytics and more.

He joined Hays in 2004 and has held a number of roles, prior to leading our Solutions and Advisory functions he was a Service Delivery Director accountable for the successful delivery and relationship management across a portfolio of talent solutions, leading the strategy and operations.

He is passionate about helping clients reach their diversity and inclusion goals and is an Executive Board Member for Bayes Business School, supporting their Global Women Leadership Programme and External DEI Council. Jason earnt his MBA from Bayes Business School in 2014 and focused his research on diversity as a strategic necessity.

Jason is also Co-Chair of the Black Network and a member of the UK&I Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee.

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