This will likely come as no surprise to those of us who are professionals in the African Diaspora, but a recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a British social policy research and development charity, reveals that black African graduates are the most overqualified for the work they currently perform.
Figures from the report show that 40.8 percent of black African graduates are currently overqualified for their roles, the largest proportion of any ethnic group in the UK.
With comparatively high rates of unemployment remaining a persistent problem in the UK black community, it’s of great concern that those who do manage to overcome this hurdle and gain employment are unable to find employment that matches their qualifications and talents. Although educational attainment has increased among black Africans and similar groups, this has not translated into the labour market.
The report strongly suggests that this widespread underemployment is another result of the discrimination that black graduates face, in the form of what has been described by some as an ‘ethnic penalty’ in the jobs market. The findings of this report and the facts behind them have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, in his speech to the Conservative party conference, Prime Minister David Cameron said the following:
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? This is a true story. One young black girl had to change her name to Elizabeth before she got any calls to interviews. That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally.”
Shortly after this speech, David Cameron launched an initiative: government departments and a group of big private employers, together employing approximately 1.8 million people, agree to a “name-blind” graduate hiring process. Such a process will require that candidates’ names not be visible to employers on applications.
Although this initiative has been welcomed, it clearly only addresses one element of a multi-faceted problem. With the information remaining visible on applications, there is still room for bias and discrimination. For example, earlier this year, top UK Universities were found to be unfairly rejecting ethnic minority students. Also, the discriminatory effect of hiring for ‘cultural fit’ remains a problem.
The report clearly highlights the need for measures and changes to address discrimination. However, hiding one’s name cannot be the only solution.