Edinburgh's AAI EmployAbility secures funding boost to help more minority ethnic women return to work

Edinburgh-based social enterprise AAI EmployAbility has secured funding to help minority ethnic women in Scotland get back to work after career breaks – saying it aims to double the number it supports from this demographic.

Its Back to Work programme, funded by the Scottish Government, is aimed at improving employment prospects, updating skills, increasing confidence, while offering access to both employers and paid work placements.

The programme is now accepting participants from across Scotland, and between November 2021 and March 2022, participants can utilise employability coaches and employers through interactive workshops, one-to-one coaching, and tailored training resources.

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AAI Employability says it is now in its fifth year of working with a “widely underrepresented demographic who experience multiple barriers to employment”. Organisations participating in the programme are from the public, private and social enterprise sectors, ranging from start-ups to large corporations.

From left: AAI EmployAbility CEO Joy Lewis, and Yvette McLaren, who has taken part in its Back to Work programme. Picture: Stewart Attwood.From left: AAI EmployAbility CEO Joy Lewis, and Yvette McLaren, who has taken part in its Back to Work programme. Picture: Stewart Attwood.
From left: AAI EmployAbility CEO Joy Lewis, and Yvette McLaren, who has taken part in its Back to Work programme. Picture: Stewart Attwood.
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The Big Interview: AAI EmployAbility founder Joy Lewis

AAI EmployAbility chief executive Joy Lewis said: “Our team is consistently blown away by the level of talent that comes through from this underrepresented group. Last year we supported 30 women to realise their potential, regain their confidence and break the stigma around taking career breaks. We’ve seen the impact this work can make, so we want to double the number of women we are supporting.”

AAI EmployAbility also states that since 2010 it has worked with more than 1,700 people and in excess of 1,100 businesses, and has a 97 per cent success rate on job placements.

The organisation in 2019 rebranded from Adopt an Intern to reflect its wider work in inclusive recruitment, diversity training and social impact projects. Its core Diversity Works initiative builds on the experience of five employment projects to support people of minority ethnic backgrounds in Scotland.

Yvette McLaren participated in AAI EmployAbility’s previous Back to Work programme and secured a six-week placement with Edinburgh-headquartered cashflow forecasting start-up Float.


She said: “The whole experience was incredible because it built my confidence and it felt like I wasn’t in things alone. Before the programme and placement, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to work in HR, but the experience reminded me how much I loved working with people.”

AAI EmployAbility added that while industry research shows that more diverse workforces deliver significantly greater performance, the employment rate in Scotland for minority ethnic women is 20 per cent lower than for their white peers, while minority ethnic women are also paid correspondingly less.

Enoch Adeyemi, chief executive and co-founder of Black Professionals Scotland, said: “The last 18 months have been especially hard for the black community in Scotland, and Covid has affected us disproportionately with more of us now unemployed. Whether it is the racial abuse of black footballers or having to continually talk about racism, it has densely put a toll on our collective wellbeing.

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"Projects like this from AAI, and the backing from the Scottish Government, offer hope and crucially, access points to employment desperately needed for people from underrepresented backgrounds so they can achieve their potential in the workforce.”

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