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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 14, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Virtual) 14 January 2021

Agenda: Managing Scotland’s Fisheries, Portfolio Question Time, Employment Opportunities (BAME Women), Drug Deaths, Decision Time


Employment Opportunities (BAME Women)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-23448, in the name of Linda Fabiani, on the young women lead report on how to increase employment opportunities for black and minority ethnic women. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the 2019-20 Young Women Lead (YWL) report, which investigates what measures are being taken to increase employment opportunities for women from ethnic minorities; understands that this topic was chosen because there is a lack of Scotland-specific data regarding BAME women’s experiences moving from education to employment; believes that, despite a number of policy initiatives and recognition of the problems, the report states that “outcomes for minority ethnic communities have not improved over the past two decades and that the focus needs to be on action”; acknowledges that the YWL committee researched its work through evidence sessions, online surveys and interviews with employers, employees, teachers and students; believes that this report brings an opportunity to better understand the barriers faced by young BAME women in East Kilbride and across the country, and notes the calls for the report’s recommendations to be considered in an effort to improve outcomes for everyone affected so as to create a fairer, better Scotland for all.


I am pleased to be able to shine a light on the work that I have been privileged to participate in, on behalf of our Parliament, with young women lead, which is a leadership programme for women aged 30 and under who live in Scotland, delivered in partnership with YWCA Scotland, the young women’s movement.

This is the third of the subject programmes that I have been involved in. By way of quick explanation, part of the leadership programme is that the participants form a committee, chaired by me, which carries out an inquiry, on a subject of their choosing, in the format of a formal parliamentary committee. The chosen topic of inquiry this year, which is investigating education and employment and the important transition between them for young women from ethnic minorities, is one that is of real personal importance to this year’s participants. For the first time, young women from ethnic minority backgrounds have made up the whole committee membership.

It is a sobering fact that there has never been a woman from an ethnic minority elected to the Scottish Parliament. I know that members of the Parliament firmly believe that that must change.

It is appropriate at this point to note that, in its report, the young women lead committee acknowledges the problematic nature of the use of the term “BAME”. The term features extensively in the committee’s report—in order to represent its demographic and the focus of its inquiry—for lack of a better available word, the committee members feel, in the current landscape.

Over the course of the inquiry, participants heard about the challenges and barriers that are faced by young women from ethnic minorities in education, job hunting and employment. Of course, we have all heard about that for some time, and we all know that there is an issue. Our young women also heard and determined that a focus is needed on finding solutions, on truly sharing best practice and on creating real change. There has to be improvement.

The recommendations that are contained in the report are a step towards that change. As I say in the introduction to the “Young Women Lead 2019/2020 Report”,

“This report is the voice of the young women on this year’s committee, and now is the time for that voice to be heard.”

The report details the background and the current policy, it discusses education and employment and, as I have said, it explores that important transition between them. The report notes that there are many policy initiatives in the public sphere and there are ambitious aims and good intentions, but the barriers still exist. Outwith the work of young women lead, the issue has exercised many of us for some time. Too often, we tick the boxes, but we do not open them up for qualitative assessment. If the minister will excuse my saying this, Governments, both national and local, are often guilty of that.

The report makes specific recommendations, including, in the education sphere, ensuring that local authorities recruit BAME identifying individuals as career advisers, and investing in useful training and development for all career advisers; creating a career development programme linking BAME women to resources so that they can build a career pathway; acknowledging the importance of role models and creating mentorship schemes for young BAME women; and further considering the presentation of opportunities at local authority career events and school fairs.

When it comes to employment, there are a load of recommendations, understandably. I will focus today on those that we believe can be considered by the Scottish Government, for action by it or for discussion with partners in the public and private sectors. One is ensuring that employers collect and use workforce data to benchmark current levels of BAME women within their workplace, so as to identify underrepresented populations. There is a lack of Scotland-specific data.

Other recommendations include supporting proactive recruitment strategies such as scholarship programmes, internships, apprenticeships and work experience for underrepresented populations; supporting the creation of BAME networks in sectors of industry; considering the creation of a stakeholder group of appropriate people to develop a portal of best practice for employers; and highlighting and celebrating employers that offer the best policies for supporting and developing young BAME women.

Recommendations that are aimed directly at the Scottish Government include that it should evaluate the effectiveness of the existing toolkit surrounding recruitment practices, considering its expansion beyond the recruitment process, and that it should fund third sector organisations that already provide recruitment services to allow them to specialise in that area.

A major recommendation that covers both elements of the study is to acknowledge the additional barrier of poverty, which can disproportionately affect BAME communities’ experiences. That could be done through Scottish Government funding of BAME-led organisations that deliver employability support. I add a personal comment on that point. What is needed is sustainable funding for organisations that have shown that they are effective, which will allow them to get on with the job rather than constantly having to seek and justify further financial support.

I look forward to hearing the minister’s response. He and his colleagues, particularly Christina McKelvie, the Minister for Older People and Equalities, will be aware that the general findings of the young women lead committee complement those of other studies. Close the Gap is a much-respected policy advocacy organisation that works in women’s labour market participation. It has welcomed the young women lead committee’s report and has noted that

“In Scotland, Black and minority ethnic ... women face an intertwined set of gendered and racial barriers that affect their ability to enter, progress and stay in good quality employment.”

However, the minister and his colleagues—including you, Presiding Officer—may not know about the further interest that the report, and the work of our Parliament and of the young women’s movement, has invoked. Already, participants in the young women lead committee—together with Elena Soper from the young women’s movement, Hayley Forrester from the Parliament’s clerking team, and me—have met representatives of the Parliaments of Bavaria, Catalonia, Wales and Flanders to discuss the programme and the committee’s report. We have been invited to a similar discussion next week with the chair of the circle of women members of the National Assembly of Quebec. I hasten to add that all that activity is happening online.

I do not have time to thank everyone who has taken part in the project—for example, those who met participants, gave their time and provided evidence. Particular mention must go, though, to the dedicated staff of the young women’s movement—and to our own parliamentary staff, who helped to develop the young women lead project and have enthusiastically embraced it over the past three years.

Of course, I must also thank the young women who have taken part. I do not have the words, let alone the time, to express the admiration that I have for them and the work that they have carried out through the hardest of times. The dedication that they have shown and their determination to make a difference to the lives of other young women living in Scotland have been truly inspirational.

We believe that it is time for change, and that change is possible. I commend this valuable report to Parliament. I also recommend it to the Scottish Government as providing extremely useful information that should be considered very seriously.


I congratulate Linda Fabiani on securing the debate and acknowledge the excellent support that she has given to this important and interesting project. I commend the work of the young women lead committee in what have been particularly challenging times, as Ms Fabiani has said.

BAME women are underrepresented in all sectors of the labour market. I agree with the report’s finding that that must change if we are to reflect Scottish society better. That should not be news to any of us here. Over the past two decades, there have been numerous parliamentary committee reports along with a lot of academic research and Government race equality frameworks supported by action plans, all aimed at tackling institutional racism and improving equality for minority ethnic people and, although there has been progress, the young women lead committee report highlights how slow the progress has been and the inordinate amount of work still to be done.

I was deeply troubled to read in the report that 65 per cent of respondents to the inquiry aged 25 to 30 were actively discouraged by school career counsellors from pursuing specific paths. I am concerned that, although career guidance is available, it is often infrequent and inconsistent, so I welcome and support the recommendation for local authorities to recruit BAME identifying individuals as career advisers. That is an important recommendation, as all the recommendations are, and they should be actioned.

I want to make it clear that responsibility for the employment gap does not lie with underrepresented individuals; much more must be done to tackle institutional racism. The Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which I convene, last year reported on race equality, employment and skills. The report looked at the recruitment process of public authorities and showed that, according to the regional employment patterns in Scotland, the employment gap between BAME workers and white workers was 14.4 per cent in 2017 and that it rose to 16.4 per cent in 2019.

In her opening speech, Linda Fabiani mentioned Close the Gap. Its research paper, “Still Not Visible: Research on Black and minority ethnic women’s experiences of employment in Scotland”, was published in February 2019. It reported that many minority ethnic women face a range of barriers in securing employment, with many reporting experiencing racism and discrimination at interview stage; once a job is secured, workplace culture can provide negative employment experiences for many. That shows a profound failure of employer equalities practices and can result in a lack of confidence among BAME women in employment complaints handling mechanisms, all of which results in racism, discrimination and inequality going unchallenged.

Although employers in both the public and private sectors may be meeting their legal duties by having policies in place to challenge discrimination and inequalities, those policies have to be underpinned by training and support to give employees the tools to report unacceptable behaviour and to feel comfortable in doing so. Also, importantly, managers and other employees with human resources responsibilities need to be equipped and feel comfortable to handle such complaints.

I feel that it is important to echo the report’s suggestion to develop a toolkit that delivers race and ethnicity induction and training at work to foster inclusive workplace cultures, which must not be limited to just the recruitment process.

The Scottish Government’s workplace equality fund, which aims to work with businesses to address long-standing barriers in the labour market, is a welcome commitment and goes some way towards challenging some of the issues.

Scotland can and must tackle institutional racism, but we must first accept that it exists, whether it is explicit or indirect. Chief executives and business leaders have a responsibility to create and sustain workplaces where progress can flourish and diversity is valued for all the benefits that it brings. We should all continue to work on ensuring that they do just that.

Strong leadership such as that shown by the young women lead committee is required to make employment of minority ethnic people a priority within organisations and business.


I thank Linda Fabiani for bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber today. We know that, since 2017, the young women lead committee has been working hard to ensure that young women from BAME backgrounds are better represented in all aspects of Scottish life.

It is unsurprising that Linda Fabiani, who convenes the group, describes the young women involved as determined, dedicated and inspirational. I was deeply encouraged by their work and I believe that, across Scotland, young people are rightly looking ahead in a positive way, despite the difficult times that we face.

Young people, whether on the YWL committee or elsewhere, are working really hard to drive forward policies that will shape their futures. That is crucial to the success of our future society and monetary economy, especially for those from BAME backgrounds.

It is disappointing that, in this day and age, we have to support specific ethnic groups rather than treat young people as a whole in a way that is blind to race, colour or ethnicity. In Scotland, we have come a long way in promoting equality and equal opportunity, but the stark reality remains that, today, someone from a black and minority ethnic background is around twice as likely to experience poverty as someone from a white British background.

That chimes with the chosen topic of the inquiry this year, which was the transition from education to employment for young women from ethnic minorities. Without a doubt, this year has been the most difficult year in recent times for young people leaving school or university and seeking employment. The Covid-19 pandemic has left many young people without the usual chances to gain work experience in transitioning out of education. Despite BAME pupils performing very well at school or university, the report highlights that young BAME women have to navigate the transition from education to employment with the added burdens of unconscious bias, stereotyping, gender issues and cultural ignorance.

Research by the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights found that graduate unemployment is affecting BAME graduates in Scotland, who are up to three times more likely to be unemployed compared to white graduates. The impact of Covid is making the job market fiercely competitive this year, but, without doubt, those effects are far more pronounced for those from BAME backgrounds in the form of the ethnicity-related employment gap. According to the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, that gap in Scotland is much wider for young people. For 16 to 24-year-olds, there is a 26.1 per cent gap between minority ethnic and white employment rates, and the figure stands at 25.3 per cent for 25 to 34-year-olds. More action must be taken not only to reduce unemployment in the years of recovery ahead but to tackle the deep and systemic racial problems that cause such gaps to prevail.

I want to touch on some of the recommendations that are highlighted in this year’s report, because I believe that, if they are implemented fully, they could bring real and positive change in a future economic recovery. When we create new jobs, it is important that we ensure that there is equal access to them as well as the right support in workplaces for BAME people. The Scottish Government should support the creation of BAME networks in different industries to aid mentorship and recruitment. That would be the first step in ensuring that young BAME women can have an insight into what roles are out there and have mentors for applications and interviews.

We need better links with BAME representatives in schools, colleges and universities as well as in companies from a variety of sectors and in the Scottish Parliament. As Ms Fabiani said, through a greater system of mentoring, career talks and specific BAME internships, young women can have more opportunities to add valuable work experience to their CVs and can equip themselves with the right tools to progress their careers. As we look to the future, I hope that businesses and the Government work constructively to remove the barriers for young BAME women. We seem to be repeating ourselves quite a lot in this Parliament. We need real change.

I thank the YWL committee and its convener, Linda Fabiani, for today’s debate. I believe that we must see more engagement from businesses and the Scottish Government in working collaboratively to mentor and train young BAME women so that they are provided with more opportunities when transitioning from education to employment.


I thank Linda Fabiani for bringing the debate to Parliament. In my mind, there is no better person than Linda Fabiani to lead a group such as the YWL committee. I am sure that her dedication to the issue will stand the Parliament in good stead. I think we were all a little jealous when Linda talked about all the places that she had been liaising with, such as Bavaria and Quebec, but, of course, we now know that she did not leave her living room to do that. Perhaps some day she will get a chance to meet the people who have contributed to the report, which I whole-heartedly welcome. I have been calling for some time for more data not just on black, Asian and minority ethnic women’s experiences of the move from education to employment, but across the board on a whole host of issues.

Linda Fabiani said that the term “BAME” is not liked and that we have used various terminologies in the past. It is important to listen to those women in considering how we should continue to refer to them.

We know that the number of women from the BAME population in leadership roles is very poor. As other members have said, they face unique barriers, as well as other people’s unconscious bias, which can limit their progression.

The remit of the report was to investigate what measures are being taken to increase employment opportunities for women from ethnic minorities, including in recruitment, retention and development policies and practices. One of the report’s recommendations was that local authorities should promote BAME-identifying individuals to senior positions in primary and secondary schools. Representation at the top of organisations as early as possible is key to improving the systems that are in place.

It is vital that school leaders hire more diverse teachers. Many BAME students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, lack role models and mentors whom they can identify with and look up to in the classroom. That is the classic feature of inequality, and it might explain why BAME students are less likely to get into the Russell group of universities than their white British peers are, despite having equivalent A-level results.

The report notes that the survey responses flagged up a lack of role models, with more than a quarter of students saying that they had no role models. It was staggering to read that one respondent said that most of the people who spoke to them were white men.

There is a severe lack of role models in high-ranked positions for BAME women in Scotland. As has been mentioned many times in debates in the Parliament, there are no BAME women MSPs. The fact that there have been no BAME women MSPs in the 20 years of devolution is a black mark on the Parliament’s reputation, but I hope that it will be corrected in the future. Having such role models who look like they do and who understand their experiences can be a huge motivator to people to pursue a similar career.

Unconscious biases and learned stereotypes are automatic and unintentional, but they are deeply ingrained in our beliefs and have the ability to affect our behaviour. They are a problem that we must address. Unconscious bias often prevents BAME women’s progression in the workplace. A survey that was conducted by Close the Gap found that more than 70 per cent of BAME women reported experiencing racism, discrimination, racial prejudice and/or bias in the workplace.

It is clear that we have a great deal of work to do here, and we need to ensure that the issue remains a high priority. We must make more serious progress on it in the next session of Parliament.

I again thank Linda Fabiani for championing such an important cause.


I join other members in congratulating Linda Fabiani not just on securing this important debate but on her work, which has brought us to the point at which we can commend the young women lead committee and all those who have been involved for their publication.

Many speeches about the important issue of employment for BAME women are peppered with statistics. We often hear about the dearth of data, which is, of course, an important issue. However, I am interested in attitudes. I know from my previous career in the police how statistics can sometimes be abused and misused. Historically, there have been fundamental misunderstandings to do with gender. Nowadays, there is no excuse for such misunderstandings in the police service, but I am concerned that we should not focus too much on numbers and percentages. We must look at attitudes and real people’s lives.

As other members have said, we must acknowledge that, fundamentally, there are a number of power imbalances, not least those relating to the toxic male masculinity that peppers our society and, therefore, the field of employment. Several members have used the term “unconscious bias”. It undoubtedly exists, but I fear that it might let some people off the hook, because it is self-evident that conscious bias—perhaps we should call it bigotry or discrimination—is sometimes at play.

Ironically, such debates are sometimes seen as being a bit problematic because they are niche and deal with equalities, rights, women and ethnic minorities. What we need is a mainstreaming of the discussions that we are having.

“BAME” is a term that is not liked by some. I think that folk are folk, but sometimes we have to group folk together. Another term that is used a lot is “underrepresentation”. I want to turn that on its head and talk about overrepresentation. I am from a group that is overrepresented—white middle-aged men are greatly overrepresented, and I have never encountered the glass ceilings that many of the subjects of the report have encountered. To our shame, it is still the case—I hope that this will change in the very near future—that our Parliament has not been blessed, as it would be, with a more diverse representative group.

Everything suggests that these young women have had restraints put on their prospects, and education is key. Other members have mentioned the education recommendations in the report, and those are the ones that I think are important.

I also want to touch on the 2019 Close the Gap research “Still Not Visible: Black and Minority Ethnic Women’s Experiences of Employment in Scotland”. We must acknowledge the sad truth with regard to BME women that it is highly likely that they are visible but that people can be seen and ignored, which is clearly what is happening. Their presence could be used as evidence of a diverse workforce when it is window dressing of the most cynical sort.

I found the information in the report—not least about the level of racism that young women experience—very illuminating. We know that, if someone experiences racism, all the other injustices such as discrimination, prejudice and bias will flow from that. We might think that we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns, but we have a way to go with regard to racism and misogyny.

It might sound as though I am being negative, but I think there is a lot to be positive about, not least of which is the energy that has been a contributing factor to the report.

We know that there are still issues in workplaces and that procedures are not great at resolving issues. As I have said, we should focus on the education section of the report. The motion

“notes the calls for the report’s recommendations to be considered in an effort to improve outcomes for everyone affected so as to create a fairer, better Scotland for all.”

I hope that that is very much the case. It is the very least that we can do.


Presiding Officer,

“They don’t want to be known for being BAME, they want to be known for the person they are and for the skills that they bring”.

Those words, lifted directly from the young women lead report that we are discussing, highlight the importance of the issue. At the heart of what we are discussing is that we must all ensure that we recognise the talents, celebrate the diversity and utilise the unmatched skills of our young minority ethnic women, and value their contribution in the workplace. I thank young women lead Scotland, the young women’s movement, and of course, Linda Fabiani for the excellent, thorough and welcome report. I also thank Ms Fabiani for bringing the debate to the chamber.

The report highlights key challenges, as exemplified by the international engagement undertaken by Linda Fabiani and those who were involved in compiling the report. We know that those challenges are not unique to our country, but they are challenges that we must address with some urgency. Everyone should have equal opportunities to gain fulfilling work that is fair, develops their skills and talents, values them and rewards them properly.

We know that the employment rate of the minority ethnic population in Scotland is lower than that of the white population, and the latest data shows a minority ethnic employment rate gap of 13.1 percentage points. That gap is wider still between minority ethnic women and white women.

A range of factors contribute to that, and many of them have been alluded to today, but we know that minority ethnic women often face barriers that can hinder their career prospects because of the intersection of their ethnicity and their gender, a point that Close the Gap has made to me many times.

The report makes a number of important recommendations in the areas of education and employment. It rightly calls for more to be done in schools to increase awareness and uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. That is why, through our STEM strategy, we are changing perceptions about STEM and challenging assumptions about who does what job. Education Scotland’s dedicated gender balance and equality officers work with schools to tackle gender bias, and to improve gendered participation and subject choice. Up to December 2020, they have engaged with 512 schools and held more than 4,900 engagements with practitioners.

More widely, we are refreshing our youth employment strategy, developing the young workforce, to reflect the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on Scotland’s young people, and aim to ensure that all young people have equal access to all opportunities on offer. As part of that, we are rolling out DYW school co-ordinators, who will provide support for young people from minority ethnic communities. We will work closely with Intercultural Youth Scotland so that their ambassadors can work with school co-ordinators in order to ensure that minority ethnic young people are supported in the choices that they make.

Representation in our schools is of course also extremely important. We are committed to doubling existing teacher numbers by 2030. We have pledged to champion diversity in Scotland’s education system, by developing bespoke mentoring and pathways for educators from minority ethnic backgrounds.

On careers advice, we understand the importance of good-quality and consistent advice to the development of young people’s aspirations. As we make our way out of the pandemic, the importance of that advice will be crucial in giving young people opportunities to develop their future careers.

Ruth Maguire highlighted that the report brings out negative experiences that some young people have faced in accessing careers advice. Although the report acknowledges some of the measures that are in place, and the progress that has been made, one negative experience is one too many. I am committed to working with our partners, in particular with Skills Development Scotland, to understand what further measures we can put in place to deliver our vision that everyone should have access to a world-class, professionally led, aligned and flexible system of careers support services that deliver for every citizen regardless of where they live in Scotland, their age or circumstance.

On employment, we have announced a range of measures to support those who are most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Our £60 million young persons guarantee will benefit minority ethnic young people. They will be central to the design and implementation of the guarantee, to ensure that the issues that matter to them are properly reflected in the work that we take forward. We are working with organisations such as Intercultural Youth Scotland to ensure that young people are meaningfully engaged as we implement the guarantee.

I am determined that we do more to understand and address the multiple barriers that young minority ethnic women face, which are at times coupled with discrimination, whether that be unconscious or overt. That is why, as we review our developing the young workforce programme and implement our young persons guarantee and various other priorities across Government, we will reflect the voice of those whom we want to benefit from the work that we are undertaking. On that, I say to Linda Fabiani and others that my officials from the young persons guarantee division in the Scottish Government have contacted the young women’s movement to set up a meeting to discuss the report and how it might affect and inform the young persons guarantee.

More widely, our workplace equality fund continues to support a range of organisations to become more diverse. In 2019-20, and to the tune of £800,000, we funded 25 projects, of which 13 provided targeted support to minority ethnic people. One project, led by Adopt an Intern, involved job-seeking black and minority ethnic women in speaking to companies, so that employers could hear at first hand about the barriers to work that are faced by that group.

More recently, our minority ethnic recruitment toolkit, which was published in September, will give advice on the importance and use of workforce data to help determine approaches for recruitment campaigns. That will help employers to create more diverse workplaces that are properly reflective of the communities that they serve.

Those actions are designed to make a difference, but I am clear that we must go further still. That is why we have outlined a range of commitments that we will be taking forward in response to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s inquiry and findings on race equality, employment and skills. I thank Ruth Maguire and her colleagues on the committee for the work that they undertook on that.

If we truly want a diverse Scotland that realises all the talents of all our people, it falls not just on the Government. There must be a cross-societal effort to make the difference that we so desperately need to see. To return to Linda Fabiani’s point, I intend not that we should simply tick boxes, but that we should open doors and effect real change. I will continue to listen to and work with partners and, collectively, we can—and we will—ensure that Scotland is a fair work nation for each and every one of our citizens.