New research looks at ways to combat racial discrimination in the labour market

How effective are measures to reduce racial discrimination and promote diversity in the labour market? This is the focus of a report published today by the ESRI which reviews international evidence to inform the work of the Anti-Racism Committee. It is funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The review considers a wide range of approaches, including legislative and legal remedies, as well as affirmative action and equal opportunities policies. The formalisation of recruitment procedures, including the use of new technologies, is also investigated. We also consider diversity training initiatives, including unconscious bias training, which address prejudice.  

  • There is little evidence that short-term unconscious bias training leads to sustained changes in behaviour and outcomes in the workplace: changing recruitment and workplace practices is likely to be more effective. 
  • Diversity initiatives in organisations (such as diversity training programmes) are most effective when people understand why they are being introduced and when they are supported by both majority and minority workers.
  • Anti-discrimination legislation sends important signals about acceptable behaviour and attitudes within a society. However, such legislation is not self-enforcing: implementing legislation is challenging and its effectiveness in deterring discrimination is difficult to assess.
  • Social networks, both within and outside organisations, play a significant role in recruitment and progression, and informal hiring practices can disadvantage minority groups. Measures to combat low application rates from minority groups can include targeted outreach to schools and universities. Within an organisation, cross-group mentoring and sponsorship have been shown to facilitate the progression of ethnic minority groups.
  • New technologies, such as the use of algorithms and machine learning in recruitment and selection processes, have the potential to reduce labour market discrimination and increase diversity, as long as the algorithms used do not replicate previous biases in recruitment.
  • The challenges and constraints of small companies are often overlooked in these debates:  small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can learn from initiatives introduced in large organisations but may also need extra support to promote diversity.

"Our review shows that there is no single solution to combatting labour market discrimination", said Dr Frances McGinnity, lead author of the report. "The most effective strategy for Ireland will involve the introduction and evaluation of a range of measures, as well as clear communication of their aims and effectiveness."

Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, said: “I want to thank the ESRI for this report, highlighting the discrimination faced by people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the labour market, and, importantly, how this discrimination can be combatted. The robust nature of the report, examining evidence-based solutions to mitigate the effects of racial discrimination, make it an important and timely document, as it informs the work of the Anti-Racism Committee in developing the National Action Plan Against Racism.”