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Worforce study far from black and white as council staff fail to disclose ethnicity

Worforce study far from black and white as council staff fail to disclose ethnicity

🕔16.Oct 2014

An attempt by Birmingham city council to iron out workplace discrimination has hit a brick wall with more than a quarter of the authority’s 13,000 employees refusing to declare their ethnicity, reports Paul Dale.

Reluctance to tick the appropriate ‘White, Black or Asian’ boxes on HR survey forms has raised serious doubts about the accuracy of the council’s workforce data analysis.

Officials were forced to issue a health warning after admitting that they simply can’t be certain how many BME and white employees the council has.

From the data that is available, Asian workers appear to be vastly under-represented at the council.

The most recent census for Birmingham suggested that Asian employees make up 21 per cent of the city workforce. At the council, however, those declaring themselves to be Asian make up just 11 per cent of the workforce.

Black employees appear to be over-represented at the council – at 12 per cent of the workforce against a city average of eight per cent – while white employees are slightly under represented.

The latest workforce diversity report states that any findings relating to ethnic origin “need to be considered with caution”.

The problem is particularly acute in the Local Services Directorate where just under half of employees have refused to declare their ethnicity.

There is a similar unwillingness to fill in the forms among the council’s highest-paid staff, with 61 per cent of senior management failing to complete the relevant paperwork.

And 45 per cent of staff who left the council last year refused to state their ethnicity, making it impossible to be certain whether discrimination exists in the redundancy programme.

An attempt to encourage staff to declare their sexual orientation and religion has also failed.

Only 10 per cent of the workforce was prepared to say whether they were lesbian, gay, transsexual, bisexual, or heterosexual, while only 12 per cent were prepared to state their religion.

The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on the council to make sure employees are not discriminated against on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

There is no compulsion under the Act for staff to disclose their ethnicity or sexual orientation. But without accurate workplace data it is impossible for the council to be clear whether it is discriminating in the way it goes about hiring and firing staff.

The diversity report notes: “Resolving this poor declaration rate requires a focussed effort, to encourage trust between employees and management, to explain why the data is needed and how data privacy will be protected, so that employees become more willing to declare their ethnicity.”

According to the data that the council does have, Black and Asian employees are more likely to be involved in disciplinary processes and lose their jobs than white employees. Just over 20 per cent of disciplinary cases involved Black workers.

Black and Asian staff continue to be under represented at senior management levels.

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