Policies and good intentions will not be enough to drive change, expert panel agrees
British businesses must be persuaded or forced to publish data on the numbers of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees in their ranks to tackle a ‘dire’ lack of inclusion, according to an influential panel.
A requirement to account for the level of racial diversity among employees – potentially alongside mandatory reporting of race pay gaps – may be the only way to effect genuine change, experts told a CIPD event in London.
The panel was convened to discuss a recent CIPD report that laid bare some of the barriers to BAME progression inside businesses. The report found that BAME staff were three times more likely than their white British colleagues to feel discrimination had held them back, and were also more likely to report that their career had failed to meet their expectations.
“The position is absolutely dire,” said Iain Wright, former MP and chair of the parliamentary business select committee, who now chairs the CIPD’s Policy Forum. “Eight per cent of directors of FTSE 100 companies have a BAME background, but that is an international field. Only 1.5 per cent are British citizens.
“It is good business practice that if your workforce, senior management team and board look like the society you are interacting with, your business benefits – not just wider society.”
The stats were “horrendous”, added Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, author of an influential government report on race in business that made recommendations for a strong reporting regime on BAME inclusion.
“Whatever sector you are in, if you are of a BAME background and get a job at an entry level, you might be lucky enough to be promoted once but then the stats fall through the floor,” said McGregor-Smith.
BAME employees were three times more likely to say that having a supportive line manager would be key to improving their development and career progression, according to the CIPD report. The panel discussed better line manager training, the importance of role models, and the role of employee networks and mentoring.
But data may be the most powerful lever in improving the bigger picture, the panel agreed. “If organisations published their data once every year and said where they stood and what interventions they were making, I genuinely think it would make a big difference,” said McGregor-Smith. “Every chief executive should have targets and incentives aligned to change [in this area].”
CIPD adviser Dr Jill Miller added: “Some organisations are sitting on a huge amount of data that is not being interrogated – who’s applying for jobs, who’s being hired, who’s being promoted.” She said the CIPD would support the idea of mandatory race pay reporting, modelled on the nascent gender pay reporting regime.
The event heard that the Civil Service has made BAME inclusion and progression a priority. It wants to be the country’s most inclusive employer, and Suzanne Semedo, Cabinet Office lead on diversity, said it was attacking the issue from numerous angles, including data, creating a centre of excellence for research into the topic and working with employee networks.
“As soon as we get into middle manager level, we see a dramatic drop in [BAME] representation,” said Semedo. “It’s not a question of lack of talent – it’s about welcoming that talent and removing barriers to getting them into senior posts. There is hidden BAME talent in organisations – ethnic minorities are likely to have more professional qualifications, for example, than some groups of white people, but is that being recognised?”
Ultimately, concluded McGregor-Smith, the situation depends on visible and successful BAME leaders taking the inclusion agenda to heart: “Nothing will change until we have more BAME people [in positions of power]. Great inclusive policies aren’t good enough. You can’t have a policy that says you’re going to be great on race until you have someone in an executive capacity with a BAME background. Not a tick-box non-executive role, but a senior operational role.”
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