Corporations need to talk about race more to improve ethnic diversity at senior levels, according to John Parker, chair of mining company Anglo American and lead of a government review into ethnic diversity in Britain’s boardrooms.
Parker was speaking at the launch of the Parker Review. It calls for every FTSE 100 board to have at least one person from a BAME background on it by 2021. Currently only 8% of director positions in the FTSE 100 are held by BAME people, and only 1.5% are BAME UK citizens.
“This is an arena many of us in the corporate world find hard to discuss, perhaps because we worry about getting the subtleties of language wrong,” Parker said. “But we can’t let anxiety get in the way of action. When 75% of FTSE 100 sales come from overseas, are we really [meeting] the challenge of aligning our board composition with our customers?”
The Parker Review recommends companies work on strengthening their leadership pipeline of BAME talent and offer strategic mentoring and sponsorship opportunities. Although much of this could be classed as an HR activity, Parker said it's critical this agenda isn’t “siphoned off to HR”.
“It must be owned by the chair and embedded in succession planning in the boardroom,” he said.
Business minister Margot James, also speaking at the event, said it's “unacceptable” that there are still 53 boards in the FTSE 100 that don’t have any BAME representation. “We are missing out on voices and perspectives in the boardrooms of Britain’s leading companies,” she said.
“Companies should be doing so much more to identify and sponsor people with potential and there should be stronger terms for search firms,” she added.