By Margaret McCulloch

When the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee began its inquiry into the barriers faced by Scotland’s ethnic minorities in accessing training and employment, we were appalled to learn of the underlying discrimination that exists.

On average Scotland’s ethnic minorities are more likely to be unemployed or in low-paid work, despite largely performing better academically than white Scots. They are underrepresented in senior management positions, and all too often clustered into lower-grade jobs and denied access to the kind of training opportunities that help people progress into promoted posts.

We heard how discrimination in the workplace in Scotland can be very subtle. In trying to access training and development opportunities, ethnic minority people saw other colleagues being taken under someone’s wing, offered opportunities and given advice, while they were excluded. As Dr Gina Netto, Associate Professor at Heriot Watt University told us, “Some people do not get to know about all the opportunities that are available because there are those who are “in” and part of the mainstream, and those who are on the margins.”

“There is a need for better awareness among employers and for embarrassment as well if their workforce is not representative in a Scotland that prides itself on being very accepting of people from other countries. There should be embarrassment if a workforce is not representative of what is typically a very welcoming attitude towards people from other countries.”

One of the most dismaying aspects of the evidence we heard was the potential damage being done to Scotland’s young people and the missed opportunity for their talent to be valued and developed. A large proportion of Scotland’s ethnic minority population are young. Data shows that 76 per cent of the non-white population are below the age of 40, compared to 47% of the white population. We were told that regardless of their ethnic background, ethnic minority young people are still performing better but are not seeing any kind of benefit in the labour market as a result.

For a year, 20year-old Joseph Amazou struggled to find work, before gaining a Commonwealth Apprentice with North Glasgow Housing Association, which provides housing and support services to tenants and owners in North Glasgow. Joseph told us, “The problems started when I left school. I was at college but getting a job was definitely my goal. A white, Scottish friend and I would go out together looking for work. We would hand in our CVs, but even though we had the same qualifications, he got the calls. I thought putting my picture on my CV would show I’m smart and presentable. But then I started to wonder if having my picture - and name – on my CV made the difference.”

Positive action measures are largely underused, but two examples were cited to us on multiple occasions during our evidence taking – PATH (Scotland) in Glasgow and NHS Lothian’s ‘Leading Better Care, Leading Across Difference’ programme in Edinburgh . These organisations use positive action provisions to offer training and guidance to employees from ethnic minorities groups which are underrepresented either in certain areas of employment or in senior roles.

Programmes like these are leading the way, but we can only truly progress if we refuse to accept current defective recruitment practices and challenge segregation within employment. We are urging the Scottish Government to commit to long-term, practical action, and to work with senior figures across the public sector, and, where possible, the private sector to tackle the problem.

This action can range from working with public bodies to ensure that policies on work experience, work placements and internships are equality assessed; to setting equality targets; and encouraging the use of public sector procurement contracts as a way of opening up jobs to ethnic minority groups who are underrepresented in certain industries.

We must also ensure public bodies’ training, mentoring and shadowing opportunities are open to all and are promoted to all. We need to see open recruitment, diverse interview panels; equality-related questions in interviews and high-quality post-interview feedback for all job applicants.

Employment is such a pivotal aspect of our lives that achieving equality in the workplace is a vital part of ensuring that Scotland as a nation is fair and inclusive to all. Fail to act now, and we not only lose out on a diverse wealth of skills and talent, we risk placing an ‘ethnic penalty’ on Scotland’s young people.

Margaret McCulloch is Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee.