The job hunt: identity and inequality24/02/2020
By Spartan Elycca De Vera
Receiving my Law Degree last summer and securing a graduate scheme was a rollercoaster. My journey from being an immigrant six-year-old who couldn’t speak a word of English to graduating with a 2:1 in Law had been incredibly rewarding and I was proud of my academic achievements. Now that I was about to graduate university, I was very eager to begin job hunting. What I had not anticipated before I started my search for a graduate role, however, was the lack of diversity and inclusion in the corporate world.
Entering the corporate world
When I started attending assessment centres for corporate graduate schemes, I quickly became aware of being the only ethnically different and female attendee in the room. This was also the case during many other networking sessions, company presentations and assessment activities. This lack of representation often made me feel out of place - a feeling I rarely experienced as someone who was extremely social and hard to intimidate. After a few assessment centres, I quickly realised that the lack of diversity in corporate organisations is not an anomaly. Unfortunately, it is a common pattern for many companies.
The truth is that experiencing stereotypes during job interviews for graduate roles can have a huge impact on a young person’s perception of the industry and can even affect their approach to job hunting. During one particular interview for a technical graduate role, I was once asked why I did not want to become a nurse…The comment did not make sense to me as I had a Law degree and my CV was very much related to Law and Business. Then, I realised that the company was referring to a stereotype surrounding many Filipino women in nursing professions. Alongside these stereotypes, I was constantly asked whether working in digital was really my aspiration in life, something that significantly shattered my enthusiasm at the time. Every time I raised questions about inclusion in the workspace, most companies came across as defensive.
Putting inclusion first
This was when I knew that diversity and inclusion were going to be crucial decision factors for me before I could choose which company I wanted to join. I felt that finding a company committed to a culture of inclusion – a culture where people from different backgrounds were nurtured – had become my priority.
It is interesting to note that just under 1/5th of SMEs are led by women or have a management team made up of mostly women. Similarly, another interesting point to note is that women are half as likely as men to start their own business. As a result, many women experience a lack of inclusion when entering the corporate world. Ethnicity further reduces those figures for women. The Guardian conducted a survey that found 43% of people from a minority ethnic background had been overlooked for a work promotion in a way that felt unfair in the last five years, which is almost twice the proportion of white British people (18%) who reported the same experience. This analysis becomes even more interesting when we look at professionals who are both women and a member of an ethnic minority group. Recent studies looking at the experiences of combined Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups in the workplace, found that 75% of men were employed, whereas only 39% of women were in active employment. This was in stark comparison to the 80% of white British men in employment against 76% of white British women.
The intersection of gender and ethnicity – finding Sparta Global
Around the same time that I became interested in researching intersectionality, I came across Sparta Global. At Sparta, I really felt a stark cultural difference as compared to previous assessment centres I had experienced. I didn’t feel like a minority, nor did I feel out of place. Sparta Global really stood out to me because diversity and inclusion in terms of gender and cultural backgrounds are evident and intrinsic elements of the organisation.
For instance, Sparta Global sponsors Codebar, a non-profit organisation that supports people who identify as minorities in relation to ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Additionally, Sparta Global works with Code First: Girls to encourage more women to undertake digital careers and form a community of women in tech. Our leadership team is also heavily involved in the D&I agenda. Our Operations and People Director, for example, was recently invited by the Young Black Business Awards to attend the Black Communities and 4IR Roundtable at 10 Downing street.
Diversity and inclusion are the lifeblood of Sparta Global and not just boxes to tick, as Sparta really believes that innovation comes from diversity of viewpoints and individual experiences.
My advice for companies looking to attract a diverse workforce is to drive inclusion and accountability from the top. All companies should approach their candidates and employees with respect, no matter who they are. Many firms are quick to state that they believe in diversity and inclusion but fail to turn their words into actions. The truth is, without a strong leadership focus on driving equal opportunities and fair treatment for all, diversity and inclusion is easily reduced to a tick box exercise.
A vibrant mix of ideas, angles and viewpoints is the key to a successful business. I hope that more companies - both nationally and internationally - will soon invest in D&I initiatives that celebrate and leverage the experiences of women from ethnic minorities the way Sparta Global has.
To everyone looking for a first role in industry and everyone who may have experienced prejudice during their job search, I would say: there are organisations out there that - like Sparta - provide a true culture of inclusion! Keep pursuing your professional goals, watch out for the right employer and don’t forget that you are unique and capable of anything you set your mind to.