Trying to Attract, Recruit and Retain Black Talent? Start with Empathy

October, 2021

During Black History Month, many organisations have taken the time to question how they can do more to attract, recruit and retain black employees and rightly so given the statistics. Black candidates have to send out twice the number of CVs as white candidates to get a positive response; are less likely to secure employment after graduation and are less likely to be promoted or hold senior positions.

For some, these statistics are shocking but for most Black people these statistics capture our shared lived experience shaping how we approach job hunting and how we make important career decisions, including which organisations we want to work with and how long we stay.

At The Brokerage we believe that to be able to tackle these employment disparities, companies must first understand and empathise (rather than sympathise) with the people affected by the problem. It is only then you can take meaningful action, that leads to positive change. Whilst I cannot speak for all Black people, below are some of the thoughts and concerns Black employees experience throughout the recruitment and employment process; and some of the actions companies can take to attract and retain more talented Black people within their organisations.

  1. “I didn’t know that company or role existed” — If we do not know you exist we cannot apply for your roles. Many companies assume the reason for low Black applicant numbers is due to the talent not existing or wanting those roles. However, the reality is it that different job boards appeal to different demographics. Consider reviewing where you advertise and work with specialist organisations like The Brokerage that can get your roles in front of Black talent.
  2. “Looking at this company, it’s clear they don’t want to hire someone like me”. First impressions count. The first place all prospective employees go to is your website. Black talent will look at your team page to see if other people like them currently work for you at ALL levels of the company. If not, the second test is whether or not you are actively trying to change that. Can we see ourselves reflected in your imagery and/or are there explicit commitments or strategies publicised that highlight your efforts to make your workplace more diverse? If not, this lack of action will likely be perceived as a lack of intention to change the status quo and the existence of bias. Why bother applying if we know we won’t be successful?
  3. “I won’t feel like I belong at this company”. Being made to feel like you belong (or not) begins long before starting a role. Whilst you are interviewing candidates, they are also ‘interviewing’ you. By indicating to prospective employees that your hiring process has been designed to counter bias and inequality, Black employees can feel more confident and assured that they are actively sought after and valued. After getting the role, other practices such as robust onboarding processes that quickly enable relationship building with team members; access to ethnicity-based employee resource groups; and cultures that embrace and encourage difference through learning, open dialogue and celebration, all contribute to making Black employees feel welcomed, seen, respected and that they belong.
  4. “This company does not value me”. It’s impossible to feel valued if you think (or know) you are being underpaid. Given statistics show the average pay gap between Black (from all backgrounds including dual-heritage) and White British employees is between 4% and 15%, practices that promote transparency such as ethnicity pay gap reporting coupled with active strategies to tackle disparities are a start. This also applies to development and progression. Do Black employees get access to training, stretch assignments and promotions at the same rate as White employees? If not, your Black employees will have already noticed and are likely preparing to find another company that will offer them what they deserve. Tracking data and transparency around promotion decisions can help you spot these issues. This coupled with ensuring Black staff are made aware of how progression works in your company, sponsorship and leadership development programmes specifically aimed at underrepresented employees, can all help to level the playing field and retain Black talent.
  5. “This company does not listen to me or others like me” In addition to being paid fairly, Black employees want to feel like they matter and their opinions and perspectives are listened to and acted upon. One way to do that at scale is through staff surveys that also collect demographic data. In doing so you will be able to specifically understand the Black employee experience, see how that differs to the majority demographic and take action to address any issues raised. It is particularly important to engage Black employees on matters related to diversity and inclusion but be mindful to not burden them or assume it is something they want to talk about.

Just like Black employees, we all want to feel like a company wants us to work for them; we all want to be assured that our identity will not lead to unequal outcomes in the workplace; and we all want our employers to understand that whilst our talent is equal, our experience of the workplace is unique. With this in mind, organisations should be intentional about what they do; speak to prospective and current Black employees to understand them more; and optimise their practices to enable them to arrive and thrive in the workplace.

  • I signed up with The Brokerage and attended a number of workshops which helped me to practice interview skills, improve my CV and prepare for online tests that can often be found in most application processes.

    Fast Track Candidate