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Leading by example to improve employment opportunities

Birmingham City Council is the largest employer in the city. They have committed to improving the pay and work opportunities for people from marginalised ethnic groups through improving their recruitment process, setting up a dedicated equalities and cohesion team and the carrying out the council’s first Workforce Race Equity Review. This case study forms part of the health inequalities hub.

Birmingham City Council is the biggest local authority in Europe, employing around 11,000 staff. As the largest employer in the city, it has sought to harness its power to improve the pay and work opportunities of people from marginalised ethnic groups. 

This has involved a wide range of steps, including ensuring all job shortlists have an individual from a minority ethnic background where possible, and setting up a dedicated equalities and cohesion team to champion the work. The council has set the ambitious aim to make sure by 2025 that the workforce better represents the local community and eradicate the pay gap that has been identified.

‘Becoming a beacon employer’ 

In October 2019 council members ordered the council’s first Workforce Race Equity Review to investigate and understand the pay differential between staff from white and marginalised ethnic groups. 

It led to the publication of a race pay audit which showed staff from marginalised ethnic groups were paid on average £1.18 per hour less, mainly because they were employed in frontline and operational roles. 

Overall 28 per cent of staff were from marginalised ethnic groups, in comparison to 42 per cent of Birmingham citizens being from one.

Councillor John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities, said:

We know there are stark health inequalities in Birmingham – and employment and pay are significant drivers of that. 

“We believe as a major employer in the city we can take a lead and our goal now is to ensure that our workforce properly reflects the community se serve and eradicate the race pay gap by 2025. We want to be a beacon for equal opportunities employment.” 

To help achieve this, the council has started to introduce a range of new initiatives under its Everyone’s Battle, Everyone’s Business initiative. 

All shortlists for jobs and interview panels need to be diverse. The council is also in the process of introducing a fast-track development programme for staff from ethnic backgrounds and a targeted advancement programme to progress staff from grade six and seven to assistant director and director roles.  

A reverse mentoring scheme has also begun so senior managers are twinned with junior staff to give them an appreciation of the challenges they face. 

Every councillor and member of staff is also now required to take part in equalities training and recruitment agencies the council work with have been tasked with reaching out to the marginalised ethnic group community more. 

To help progress the work, the council has established an Equalities and Cohesion Star Chamber, chaired by Councillor Cotton and involving staff representatives, as well as creating a dedicated equalities and cohesion team to work alongside HR.  

The commitment has been well received by staff. Atif Ali, Vice Chair of the Corporate Black Workers Support Group, said the work being done illustrated the council’s commitment to equal opportunities and tackling inequalities.

“As the employee network group that represent Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority staff in the council, we look forward to building on the work we have done so far with the council’s leadership team, members, partners and key stakeholders in the city.

And Anum Saleem Co-chair of the recently-created Asian and Allies Network, which provides mentoring support, said the council’s approach had been really welcomed and would help create a “more inclusive and diverse organisation”.

Influencing others 

But using its influence as an employer is just one part of the council’s Everyone’s Battle, Everyone’s Business initiative, said Councillor Cotton. “We recognise we have to get our own house in order, but we can also use our influence as a civic leader to get others on board.” 

The council is sponsoring the second phase of the Birmingham Poverty Truth Commission, which is bringing together local people with lived experience of poverty to help influence the debate and decision-making around addressing inequalities. 

Birmingham is also working with Operation Black Vote to run a civic leadership programme to encourage people from ethnic minority backgrounds to become councillors, school governors, magistrates, police board representatives and NHS trust board members. 

The council is also developing an employment charter to encourage the adoption of best practice that the council is pioneering. The idea is to work with the anchor institutions in the city, such as the NHS organisations and the university, to increase recruitment from the most excluded communities in the city. 

It builds on work the council has already done with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies to encourage these institutions to use their spending power to increase economic opportunities for all of Birmingham’s communities, businesses and citizens. 

Other measures that are being taken include an active programme to celebrate and share the city’s rich story of diversity and dynamism. This involves everything from ensuring art displays to naming of streets and buildings reflect and properly mark the contribution of those from ethnic backgrounds. 

“As we emerge from the pandemic we are determined to build back fairer, putting tacking inequalities, creating new opportunities and breaking down barriers at the heart of our plan for the city’s future,” added Councillor Cotton.