There are 19 FTSE 100 companies that still don’t have anyone from an ethnic minority on their board. This comes despite a target set by the government-backed Parker Review into corporate diversity of at least one person from an ethnic minority on every board by 2021.
Yes it’s true that seven all-white boards have disappeared over the past few months. Yes there’s still time for the target to be met.
But as a woman of colour, who has often been the sole ethnic minority sitting on a board, I find it hard to celebrate progress when the numbers of my peers remain so low.
Only around 12 per cent of the FTSE 100 board members surveyed through the Parker Review belong to ethnic minorities.
Only five ethnic minority directors have a CEO role (down from six last year), all of whom are men. Two occupy a Chair role (one man, one woman) and four men occupy a CFO role.
The Parker Review also revealed the number of black people at executive and board level has decreased over the five-year duration of the Review. And black women are least likely to be in the UK’s top 1 percent of earners regardless of experience or education, according to LSE research.
Almost a year on for the murder of George Floyd, is this really the best racial inclusion UK PLC can deliver?
I’m a British Asian in my early 50s and spent 20 years climbing the corporate ladder to reach senior executive level at Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group. Today, I have a successful talent and diversity consultancy, More Difference, and sit on the boards of the Old Vic and several government departments.
My parents, who moved to the UK from India in the 60s, taught me to work hard and make the most of myself. And while the combination of those two things has undoubtedly brought me success, there’s something else I’ve had to do. Something my white peers have not.
I’ve had to do learn to fit in – the way I dress and speak, the aspects of my personal life and faith I gloss over at the coffee machine. I even go by a different name. Everyone I work with knows me as Pavita, the formal name I was registered with at birth. But as is the case across many Asian communities, I have a family name – Simi. These two names represent the two identities I switch between at work and in my personal life, often referred to as “code switching”. This lived experience is shared by other minority ethnic leaders.
I know how rare I am to be an Asian, female board member. But the boardroom’s not where I’ve felt the difference most. No, that’s been the countless corporate events where I’m often the only (or one of few) people of colour – the conferences, dinners, galas, launches and drinks receptions where so many conversations are had and decisions made.
Diversity isn’t enough – it’s inclusion that’s vital. If we’re ever going to see real progress and achieve proportional representation of all races across all companies, sectors and industries, then business leaders need to ask themselves hard questions. If their organisations do not reflect the diversity of their customers and communities, they have to ask what am I getting wrong? What am I missing? What am I not being told?
It’s not good enough to say they just aren’t enough diverse candidates for management or senior roles. It’s an excuse. Instead, they must identify the obstacles that are preventing non-white individuals progressing in their careers.
Research time and again shows that the more diverse a company is, the better it performs against its less diverse peers. So not only are diversity and inclusion good for society, but they’re crucial to business too.
The scale of the challenge is enormous. But I take tremendous encouragement from the fact 46 per cent of the 118 ethnic minority directors counted by the Parker Review are women, up by almost half compared to 2020.
When I look at the wider ethnicity figures, they remind me of where we were 11 years ago when we set up the 30% Club. Back then, there were only around 10 per cent women on board across the FTSE 100. Today it’s 36 per cent.
What’s made a huge difference in female representation at board and executive level of the UK’s biggest companies is gender pay gap reporting. Greater transparency on the ethnicity gap would now be welcome by the 30% Club.
We set ethnicity targets last year, calling on members to commit to having at least one board member of colour by 2023. We are a founding partner of the CBI’s Change the Race Ratio and are encouraging our members to self-report their ethnicity data so real progress doesn’t take decades to be achieved.
When I left my executive career someone told me “go where you are celebrated not tolerated”. That’s exactly what I do today – work with organisations who value the difference I bring. I would like see all organisations challenge themselves to reflect society and bring a diversity of thought to their boardrooms.