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Eight in Ten ethnic minority leaders believe there is institutional prejudice in the UK workforce

  • 82% of ethnic minority leaders do not trust the organisations they work for, believing there is institutional prejudice against minorities in the workforce in the UK
  • Almost one in five (18%) of these leaders have personally experienced workplace discrimination in the last two years
  • 60% believe institutional racism has moved up the organisational agenda in recent months, but two thirds say the language is emotive and makes people uncomfortable
  • Nearly three-quarters (73%) of ethnic minority leaders surveyed believe that the majority of workplace prejudice is unconscious


New research1 from Green Park reveals 82% of ethnic minority leaders do not trust the organisations they work for, believing there is institutional prejudice against minorities in the UK.  Almost one in five (18%) ethnic minority leaders have personally experienced workplace discrimination in the last two years.  The findings are published in Green Park’s report ‘Changing the Face of Tomorrow’s Leaders:  Increasing Ethnic Minority Representation in Leadership’.  


While 60% of ethnic minority leaders believe institutional racism has moved up the organisational agenda in recent months, two thirds of these respondents say the language is emotive and makes people uncomfortable.  When tackling the issue of racism many firms are struggling to find an appropriate dialogue and language.  


When it comes to ethnic minority board level representation, just 2% of companies surveyed are meeting their identified targets.  Over a fifth (22%) of firms admitted being unaware of current progress towards diversity targets and 18% did not know there to start.  More than one in ten (13%) have a ethnic diversity target but no strategy, while 9% are simply replicating their gender diversity strategy.


Ethnic minority leaders are pessimistic about the likelihood of change in boardroom composition within the next two years.  Two thirds (66%) did not believe that there would be a significant improvement in ethnic minority representation at board levels in two years’ time. Only a fifth (20%) of respondents thought representation would improve, but would only be achievable with direct Government intervention. It would require a major shift in both the attitude and appetite of the Government to introduce an interventionist labour market policy.  A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2016 “Healing a divided Britain” called for the government to reduce inequalities “piecemeal and stuttering”.


The biggest barrier to addressing the issue of greater ethnic minority representation on boards was identified as underdeveloped pipelines/strategies, followed by a lack of accountability in the recruitment supply chain and a lack of commitment to diversity.  The research found that ethnic minority leaders often felt the recruitment function in organisations lacked a desire to look for and create value propositions for “unusual suspects”.


There is a fear of talking openly about the dangers of institutional racial prejudice, addressing the way people think about and measure it.  Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed believe that the greatest part of workplace prejudice is unconscious.  There is therefore a need for educational programmes to help people understand these biases and how they can be overcome.  


Raj Tulsiani, CEO of Green Park, said: “Diversity must be a central objective of any recruitment or talent management strategy.  This isn’t an issue of political correctness; it is an issue of ensuring firms draw upon the largest possible talent pool, benefitting from the breadth of experience and expertise of a diverse workforce.  We need much greater diversity at board level as a matter of urgency, there is no point having programmes at entry level ensuring greater diversity if these candidates become quickly disillusioned if they see a ‘ceiling’ they will not be able to break through.” 


Ken Olisa OBE, HM Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London and Board Member of DRIVE, said: “It self-evidently gives competitive advantage to have customers, suppliers and regulators reflected in an organisation’s workforce – from top to bottom.  By confusing the hard objective of competitive advantage with the soft one of social justice people find discussing diversity uncomfortable -especially in the boardroom where many are worried their language will be perceived as racist. Tackling this is a business imperative and not an HR policy.”  “


The report makes key recommendations for organisations to help them tackle the issue:


Lead change from the top: Diversity is not something the CEO should hand to a Human Resources Director to “sort out,” this strategy has been shown to be ineffective. Equality and workforce diversity must become a board level issue, with the executive publicly and regularly showing support.  This is borne out in the research, which showed 84% of ethnic minority leaders want stronger leadership from the top on diversity and inclusion initiatives.


Optimise the supply chain: If organisations want to ensure they are reaching diverse candidates, they need to work with suppliers with lived experience and credibility that diverse candidates already trust.


Create your own talent map and pipelines: Recruiters should be tasked with isolating talent pools, internally and externally.  There is a need to create programmes to engage and progress diverse talent and regular reporting is required to ensure representation is proportionally maintained. 


Tackle the difficult conversations on race and difference:  Organisations must be open and accountable, making top down public and transparent commitments to change and place people in charge of delivering this, including the board, executive and supply chain.  People need to take greater accountability, 64% of ethnic minority leaders say currently there is no organisational accountability for failed diversity initiatives.


Collect data: The research found that 78% of firms have no ethnic minority leadership targets within their organisations.  It is imperative to know where diverse talent sits in an organisation and the concordance between their views and those of its customers to be truly able to ensure equal opportunity for development and progression.  

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