Edinburgh social enterprise secures funding to help minority ethnic women get back into workplace

An Edinburgh-based social enterprise has secured Scottish Government funding to help minority ethnic women get back into the workplace.
Joy Lewis of AAI EmployAbility and Yvette McLaren. Picture: Stewart AttwoodJoy Lewis of AAI EmployAbility and Yvette McLaren. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Joy Lewis of AAI EmployAbility and Yvette McLaren. Picture: Stewart Attwood

AAI EmployAbility’s Back to Work initiative is supported by the Government’s Women’s Returner Fund. It aims to improve the pay gap by helping minority ethnic women get back into the workplace following career breaks due to childcare, other care commitments or health issues.

The initiative will see organisations based in Scotland, from start-ups to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) host work placements, undergo tailored diversity and inclusion training, and exchange knowledge around best practice.

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Brewgooder, Ooni Pizza Ovens, OneBanks, Lilypads, Heartbox, Left Coast Culture, Actiph Water, Cutitronics, East Renfrewshire Council and RSPB are among the employers taking part in the programme. As part of the scheme, six of the private sector companies are taking on minority ethnic women for paid four-week placements.

AAI EmployAbility, formerly known as Adopt an Intern, was founded in 2010 with the initial mission of tackling the culture of unpaid graduate internships.

The business rebranded in late 2019 to reflect its wider work in inclusive recruitment, diversity training and social impact projects. Its core Diversity Works initiative builds on the experience of four employment projects supporting minority ethnic people in Scotland since 2017.

While industry research shows that more diverse workforces deliver greater performance, including on profitability, the employment rate in Scotland for minority ethnic women is 20 per cent lower than for white women, with minority ethnic women also paid less than their white counterparts.

Joy Lewis, chief executive of AAI EmployAbility, said: “While this is the fourth consecutive year in which we have run a diversity-focused project with the financial backing of the Scottish Government, you could argue that understanding diversity and taking steps to be truly inclusive has never been more important to our workforce.

“2020 saw the pandemic rage through societies worldwide, while issues of social justice and racism came to the fore in an extraordinary and urgent fashion.

“The aim of this project is to support both underrepresented, yet incredibly talented, women and our partner employers, giving them the tools that will improve employment prospects at the end of the journey.”

Yvette McLaren, a participating women returner who has secured a paid four-week placement with Float, said: “I’ve been part of previous programmes for women returners, but have never felt they were properly tailored to my background or needs.

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“My confidence has skyrocketed from attending these online events, getting one-to-one support from AAI, and particularly from the opportunity to interact with potential employers. I’ve lived in Edinburgh since 1991 and it’s reassuring to know there are businesses here really trying to take diversity seriously.”

Jamie Hepburn, Scottish Government minister for business, fair work and skills, said: “We want to ensure everyone – irrespective of gender, race or disability – has access to employment opportunities and workplace progression.”

AAI said it has a 97 per cent successful placement rate and has supported more than 1,000 businesses across a range of sectors with recruitment and social impact projects.

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The Big Interview: AAI EmployAbility founder Joy Lewis

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