We need to talk about race: why are we making so little progress on ethnic diversity?

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pwoodman
Policy Researcher
Chartered Management Institute
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We’re making significant progress with gender diversity in the workplace. Yet when it comes to race and ethnicity, advancements have been harder to see. Only 6% of top management jobs are held by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders.

That is simply not good enough when you consider BAME groups make up 12% of the population across the UK – and much more in cities like London. It’s time for change.

That’s not to say that no progress has been made whatsoever. Initiatives such as the Parker Review have been set up to put a spotlight on BAME diversity. Its report late last year called for at least one ‘leader of colour’ on FTSE100 boards by 2021. This was a vital first step in igniting the BAME debate.

But we must look at the bigger picture in order to achieve genuine progress in BAME representation. While the boardroom is an important part of an organisation, we have to look at the whole company to understand why so few BAME managers reach the top and look at what needs to change to create a more diverse management pipeline at every level of business.

The crux of the issue

The key barrier for BAME employees is that many managers are uncomfortable with talking about race. In the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)’s report Delivering Diversity, published in partnership with the British Academy of Management (BAM), we looked at BAME diversity within FTSE 100 companies. One of the key findings was what one manager called “silence around race and ethnicity”.

Our research showed that only 54 per cent of FTSE 100 leaders are seen to actively champion diversity in their companies, with just 21 per cent revealing their current diversity levels through published progression targets and data. Leaders need to find their voice and show their commitment to diversity and to building inclusive business cultures.

Today, 71% of companies openly report on gender diversity […] but just 21% of companies publicly report on BAME diversity.

To understand the extent of BAME representation in the workplace for the Delivering Diversity report, we spoke privately to managers about their experiences of BAME representation in the workplace. One respondent went as far as to say that “the lack of BAME people in my company makes me feel ashamed”, highlighting the possibility of an underlying bias in the culture of organisations.

Whether we admit it or not, we are all susceptible to bias, but acknowledging the issue is a big step forward.

If employees are more vocal about their concerns regarding a lack of inclusion and diversity then we will begin to see a shift in attitudes from the top, and a conscious effort to promote greater inclusion of BAME employees.

Getting the conversation started

Delivering Diversity has also drawn attention to an echoing silence among top tier management when it comes to discussing BAME representation. This has meant that just half (54%) of HR and diversity leaders in top UK businesses see their company leaders championing BAME diversity.

Many report employee reluctance to share personal information, but data from across the employment cycle is vital to driving business improvements. With well over four-fifths (83%) of HR and diversity leaders calling for better data to help them drive progress on race and ethnicity, it is clear that this wall of silence must be broken down.

We have broken down these walls before; just look at the progress we’ve made with female representation. Today, 71% of companies openly report on gender diversity, meaning that management can be held to account when they fall short. Compare this to the fact that just 21% of companies publicly report on BAME diversity.

As with so many issues, the tone is set from the top. If business leaders are shying away from this topic, it is very difficult to address the issue. Indeed, publicly setting and reporting on key diversity indicators is a major lever for accountability and change. Due to a lack of open and honest reporting, most businesses are falling short in terms of BAME representation.

The impact

A lack of BAME representation is not just morally problematic. It can have a massive impact on the performance of an organisation.

CMI and BAM have found a correlation between the lack of diversity in the workplace and the productivity of an organisation. Diversity can pool together a wealth of different experiences and skills for every level of the company. And the economic benefits of this are clear.

It will be a gradual process, but we will begin to see these diversity barriers come crashing down.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s analysis of Office for National Statistics data has found that full representation of BAME individuals across the labour market would be worth £24 billion a year to the UK economy.

On the international stage, organisations who do not have a diverse workforce will likely suffer. FTSE 100 businesses already generate 75% of their income from outside the UK, and emerging markets are growing rapidly.

If organisations are to keep up with this pace of change then a diverse workforce is absolutely vital to secure a strong position in a highly competitive market.

Working differently

Tackling racial discrimination is becoming a higher priority on the business agenda, and initiatives like the Parker review have really helped to get the ball rolling. But the work here is just starting, and we must ensure that we don’t lose momentum.

Developing an open and transparent benchmarking system would mark a positive step in the right direction. By establishing pipeline indicators and using time-trend data to measure progress, businesses will be forced to look at the numbers, and address their diversity issues head on.

This will, in turn, shed light on some key questions that managers must ask themselves if they are to develop their organisation.

What is the make-up of your workforce? Does it reflect the place you live and the customers you serve? Do you attract a diverse range of people? While the answers may make some uncomfortable, only by challenging their current practices will we be able to see a positive and sustainable change to business practices.

These answers will also prompt managers to get to the crux of the issue, and this is crucial if we are to effect change. The most important thing a manager can do is lead by example through creating more opportunities for senior leaders to meet emerging BAME leaders and building diverse networks.

Changing working culture to create a transparent and nurturing workplace will boost team morale.

It will be a gradual process, but we will begin to see these diversity barriers come crashing down. Managers must take responsibility for challenging the status quo and changing current practices for the better. It’s time to deliver on diversity.

To read CMI and BAM’s Delivering Diversity report on BAME diversity, visit: www.managers.org.uk/deliveringdiversity

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