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Ethnic minority leaders face prejudice

Just 2% of companies surveyed were meeting their ethnic minority board representation targets

Four out of five (82%) ethnic minority leaders do not trust the organisations they work for, believing there is institutional prejudice against minorities in the UK, according to research from executive search firm Green Park.

The research, which was conducted among the DRIVE network (67 associate companies), the BAME Board Network (650 associates) and the Green Park Business Network (3,957 associates), found that 18% of ethnic minority leaders have personally experienced workplace discrimination in the last two years.

When it came to ethnic minority board-level representation, just 2% of companies surveyed were meeting their targets. Twenty-two per cent of firms admitted being unaware of current progress towards diversity targets, and 18% did not know where to start. Thirteen per cent have an ethnic diversity target but no strategy, while 9% are simply replicating their gender diversity strategy.

While 60% of ethnic minority leaders believe institutional racism has moved up the organisational agenda in recent months, 73% of those surveyed believe that workplace prejudice is largely unconscious. The research suggested that there is therefore a need for educational programmes to help people understand their unconscious biases and how they can be overcome.

These findings are supported by a report from the TUC, which found that 37% of black or minority ethnic (BME) workers have been bullied, abused or singled out at work. Nearly half (47%) of those who had been verbally abused at work said this was because of their race.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that racism still exists in British workplaces. "Racist bullying, harassment and victimisation should have no place anywhere, least of all at work," she said. "And it’s clear that people are being denied opportunities because of their race.

“Employers must take a zero-tolerance attitude and treat every complaint seriously. It’s a scandal that so few black and Asian workers feel their bosses are not dealing with racism properly."

Raj Tulsiani, CEO of Green Park, said that 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,” he said.

“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 when they see a ‘ceiling’ they will not be able to break through.”

Ken Olisa, HM lord-lieutenant of Greater London and a board member of The Diversity Recruitment Institute for Value and Excellence (DRIVE), Green Park’s social enterprise, outlined the business case for racial diversity. “It self-evidently gives competitive advantage to have customers, suppliers and regulators reflected in an organisation’s workforce – from top to bottom,” he said. “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.”