Study highlights challenges to business innovation for minority ethnic groups and disabled people

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Prof Tim Vorley joins Oxford Brookes

A study into business innovation has shown that, despite diversity being a hallmark of successful business, there are still many people within minority groups that are being held back.

Carried out by the Innovation Caucus, a research project supported by Innovate UK, the report highlights inclusivity challenges in the workplace, and is co-authored by Professor Tim Vorley, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Oxford Brookes Business School. While there were many commonalities between minority groups, there were differences in types of barriers, support needs and perceptions. These were addressed in the report, along with recommendations moving forward.

Taking a sample of both business owners and employees, 866 people from  BAME communities and 1,141 people with a disability were interviewed, along with another control group of people who belong to neither of these groups. It was noted that potential barriers to professional progression and development, particularly for those with a BAME background, revolved around concerns of prejudice or hostility.

For respondents with a disability, it was perceived that health issues, and in many cases the fear of losing disability benefits, were holding them back. The report also noted that age, class and gender could also make a difference, both within underrepresented groups and also within the group without a disability or a BAME background, as other factors can also play a part.

The research found high levels of aspirations and intent among ethnic minorities and disabled groups to start a business, many of whom were committed to pursuing innovations for social good. Despite this they tended not to identify as entrepreneurial or innovative, and considered themselves not to fit with stereotypes as entrepreneurs or innovators.

Professor Tim Vorley, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Oxford Brookes Business School

Among the findings, nearly half (46%) of employees with a BAME background surveyed felt that the idea of running their own business was an attractive one, significantly higher than than the control group of non-BAME background interviewees without a disability (33%), yet respondents from  BAME communities felt that major challenges holding them back included a lack of steady income and a lack of money to start up, as well as other factors, such as discrimination.

Employees interviewed with disabilities were much more likely to identify as ‘creative thinkers’ and ‘inventive’, three times more likely than people who were not from a BAME background, nor had a disability. However, many of the respondents with a disability who were business owners felt that they were ‘not taken seriously’ in meetings with new clients or even when going to the bank to try and secure a loan, because there was a perception from others they may not be able to fully commit professionally, because of their disability.

On the report and the findings, Professor Tim Vorley states: “This report represents an important first step in working with Innovate UK to understand and address the challenges associated with promoting diversity and inclusion. Building previous work completed by Innovate UK focusing on underrepresented groups, the study explores the barriers, challenges, opportunities and support needs for ethnic minorities and disabled people to participate in business innovation.

“The research found high levels of aspirations and intent among ethnic minorities and disabled groups to start a business, many of whom were committed to pursuing innovations for social good. Despite this they tended not to identify as entrepreneurial or innovative, and considered themselves not to fit with stereotypes as entrepreneurs or innovators. This is compounded by a lack of relatable champions and mentors.

“The recommendations of the report underline the need to increase equality, diversity and inclusion, targeting the engagement of underrepresented groups while also seeking to embed diversity and inclusion into mainstream programmes. Clearly there are structural challenges that need to be addressed, but Innovate UK is taking a proactive approach to promoting diversity, although more needs to be done to change perceptions and address biases.”

Dr Ian Campbell, Innovate UK Executive Chair, said: “The report highlights the need for Innovate UK to purposefully recognise and engage with structures of exclusion both within our own organisation and the wider innovation landscape when shaping and implementing future activities aimed at addressing underrepresentation. The recommendations will help to inform how Innovate UK can make its support more visible, accessible, and attractive for the widest pool of innovation talent across the country.”

Professor Jennifer Rubin, UKRI Executive Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: “This report will enhance our understanding of challenges across the business sector, informing the development of new ways of addressing inequalities and improving our approach.”

For there to be a seismic shift in attitude, the report finds that structural discrimination goes further than just the workplace, and that tackling entrenched hierarchical values would need to be addressed to root out inequality for minority groups.

You can view and download the report here.