Rachel Beauchamp, Anna Levett and Obieze Oputa - members of the AGCAS Equality and Diversity Advisory Group - explain why inequalities of opportunity need to be addressed holistically
We know that there is an employment outcomes gap between UK-domiciled white students and students from different ethnic backgrounds - it has been a talking point in recent years and the gap was highlighted in the 2021 edition of What do graduates do? The situation has to have improved since then, right? Sadly, the most recent Graduate Outcomes data indicates that things are not getting better.
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What do graduates do? 2023
BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) is divisive as a catch-all term. Frequently used to group all ethnic minorities together, it disguises huge differences in outcomes between them. For example, if we look at the 2019/20 Graduate Outcomes data we can see that 59.3% of white graduates were in full-time employment 15 months after graduation compared with 51.3% of BAME graduates. This gap of eight percentage points is problematic in itself, but if we look even more closely at the data we can see, for example, that the gap is even wider for Asian or Asian British-Pakistani graduates with a difference in outcomes of 11.2 percentage points.
By grouping all non-white graduates into a box we are missing key nuances in the data that can, and should, be used to further inform decisionmaking and policymaking addressing graduate outcome inequalities.
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has impacted graduate outcomes across the board with a reduction in fulltime employment outcomes across all ethnic groups. For those students who graduated in 2018/19 this was down from 60.2% to 55.7%. Although the data has improved for the graduating class of 2019/20 (with an increase to 57.4%) we are still not back to pre-pandemic levels and some groups have been more heavily impacted than others. Chinese graduates are now the group with the highest unemployment rate (11.6%). The percentage of Chinese graduates in full-time employment has reduced by 5.9 percentage points between 2017/18 and 2019/20 compared with the average reduction across all ethnicities of 2.8 percentage points.
All forms of inequality surfaced in the data must be analysed and addressed simultaneously to prevent the rights, interests and voices of minorities from being overlooked.
Everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression. We must recognise all aspects that can be used to marginalise people, such as gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability etc. Acknowledging the importance of intersectionality means that tackling the graduate outcomes gap for ethnic minority students alone is not an equitable approach. All forms of inequality surfaced in the data must be analysed and addressed simultaneously to prevent the rights, interests and voices of minorities from being overlooked. For example, 2019/20 data demonstrates that 75.2% of employed white male graduates are in professional-level jobs compared to 61.3% of female Asian-Bangladeshi graduates. This gap of 14 percentage points will not be closed by addressing ethnicity in isolation. Data should be viewed holistically, acknowledging and addressing the inequality of opportunity from different perspectives.
Universities and employers have taken steps to address inequalities in graduate outcomes over the past few years. Schemes such as the 10,000 Black Interns programme and various targeted ‘diversity internships’ are all positive steps towards tackling the graduate outcomes gap. Due to the lag between graduation and Graduate Outcomes data collection we won’t know the full impact of these interventions for quite some time.
While there has been a flurry of remedial action in this area in the last few years, there is still a lot more to be done, particularly from moving from a piecemeal approach to one that is strategically embedded in, part of and informs organisational strategy and policy; fully resourced, monitored, and championed by employers, universities, and employability services. There needs to be more collaboration, sharing of data and impact, and application of what works across organisations.
Rachel Beauchamp is postgraduate company projects manager at Lancaster University Management School. Anna Levett is head of Careers and Employment at the University of Hertfordshire. Obieze Oputa is careers consultant at The Careers Group.
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