Still pale, still stale: We need more role models to address the black, Asian and minority ethnic diversity deficit in business

Suki Sandhu
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The Oscars was heavily criticised for its shortlist (Source: Getty)

It may only be March but the issue of diversity, specifically ethnic diversity, has already been one of the most widely covered topics of 2016.

From university admissions to the Oscars, there has been an unsettling sense of regression in the number of visibly successful black, Asian and minority ethnic (bame) people in both the UK and America.

Without prominent and diverse role models, it is impossible for the next generation to be inspired. And this is as true in business as it is in competitive sports or acting.

In fact, the business world is one of the industries worst affected by a diversity lag. Despite non-white communities making up 14 per cent of the UK population, just four per cent of FTSE 100 chief executives were from ethnic minorities - in the FTSE reshuffle last week, Said Samih Darwazah dropped out as Hikma Pharmaceuticals was relegated to the FTSE 250.

The situation is just as bad in the US, where although the non-white population make up 28 per cent of the total, just 11 per cent of businesses listed on the S&P 100 have non-white chief executives. #OscarsSoWhite? #CSuiteSoWhite!

The figures mean there is just one non-white chief executive of a FTSE 100 company for every 2.3m people from an ethnic minority in the UK, compared to one white boss for every 600,000 white people.

Looking at the problem from the bottom up paints an equally bleak picture; despite one in eight of the working age population coming from a bame background, only one in 10 are in the workplace. It is hardly surprising therefore that a study last year by Business in the Community highlighted that 30 per cent of workers from ethnic minoritiesbelieve there is no-one they can relate to in their organisation.

We need role models. But we need more than that.

Halle Berry summed it up: “To sit here almost 15 years later knowing that another woman of colour has not walked through that door [referencing her Oscar win in 2001], is heart-breaking. It's heart-breaking, because I thought that moment was bigger than me.”

We need to work together, actively celebrating those who prove race does not need to be a barrier to success; and businesses have a big responsibility to pave the way.

Talent, not background, needs to be the mantra. It is a fact that businesses make better decisions when they include diverse people across the organisation. Any business which still fails to accept this is operating in the dark ages.

This is highlighted in Mckinsey’s report, Diversity Matters, which proved companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

One statistic, that I was almost surprised to read, gave me cause for optimism. According to Race at Work 2015, one in five non-white employees said they are on their employer’s succession planning list for senior roles, compared with one in 10 white employees.

This is an indication employers are beginning to diversify their board pipeline. But there is a long way to go if we want to ensure boards reflect the people they serve.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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