How Do We Try to Get a More Diverse, Balanced Population in our Boardrooms?

01/11/2023
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Allan E Cook CBE DSc
Chairman of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult

According to the statistics from the UK Government only 14% of the UK population is from a minority, ethnic background. This has only increased from 13% in the 2011 census. How do we try to get a more diverse, balanced population in our boardroom and management teams within the UK given this statistic, compromising without compromising talent and adopting positive bias?

VocL Voices’ Responses

Ross O’Brien 
Business Advisor, EVP Customers & Products, BP

It’s been 5 years since the very first Ethnic Diversity Review, led by Sir John Parker. The goal was to have one member of every FTSE board representing Ethnic Minorities. Today, 94% of FTSE 100 companies have achieved this (up from 47% in 2017!) and total representation now stands at 16% compared to 8% when the review was completed. This is great progress for the top UK listed companies. Of course, there is still more to be done. Whilst the FTSE 100 has shown the possibility, FTSE250 – and beyond – still lags. Perhaps because of less investor pressure or public scrutiny. I believe there are two main behaviours which will help us increase our board diversity and performance. Firstly, for more companies to recognise the performance advantage of diversity and inclusion. It’s a no brainier. Secondly, to ensure that each interview slate includes at least one ethnic minority member (or at least all options have been exhausted). This has been done successfully with female talent over the years and it works. Talent always shines through when given the chance!

Danielle Crompton
Ethics & Sustainability / John Lewis Partnership

Board diversity has been big topic of conversation for many years. Increasingly investors and society are looking to purpose-driven and responsible business to be more proactive in driving diversity at the Exec level and throughout the organisation. What could this mean in practice? – Taking a critical look at the board and workforce, being honest and transparent about where there are diversity shortfalls and what the ambitions are. – Make it a priority. Businesses will have lots of competing demands for attention but this must become a top priority for the Exec as they shape the future of the business. – Look at a broader variety of talent pools, use different recruiters, be clear about the expectations. – Create a D&I task force of all employees to support in shaping a more diverse company culture. – Make sure that the right policies and procedures are in place or review existing policies to ensure they are up to scratch.

Rebecca Harlow
Net Zero Proposition Lead/ Arcadis

Diversity of talent and thinking will yield great business results. While this statement has been researched and verified it has not translated in large amounts of change for UK boardrooms and company leadership. Being able to communicate and demonstrate this is key to raise diversity- I.e creating a pull for different. However people with protected characteristics face more barriers in joining and climbing within companies – with creating a ‘push’ through talent mentoring and policies that enable diversity like blind recruitment we will not see the change we strive for.

Ben Horn
Digital Transformation Director, Crystal Doors

An excellent question, as demonstrated by the rapidly growing demand for diversity and inclusion consultation. I would like to address a couple of historical challenges and consider how we can learn from them to form a better strategy.

When asking “How do we try to get a more diverse, balanced population in our boardroom and management teams” we must bear in mind that strategies targeting higher management positions have the potential to favour those from minority backgrounds who have already established successful careers. This is because those who are often considered for boardroom or management positions are those who have already seen success; success being a strong indicator of capability. To give an example of this challenge – when I lived in South Africa I learnt about their Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy. BEE was undoubtably a necessary policy to begin working towards equal opportunities in the workplace for all ethnicities. However, although it was created for a noble cause, it has come under heavy criticism for “benefit[ing] not the vast majority but an elite” (Desmond Tutu, 2004) because it was structured to benefit those who were already successful enough to be eligible for higher management positions, rather than encouraging diversity at all levels of organisational structures. This policy has been well recognised to have sown division within the minority groups that it was proposing to support and has needed two major reforms in 2003 (BBBEEE) and 2021 as a result. We can learn from this example by ensuring that our strategies for minority ethnic inclusion are structured to uplift people at all levels from internships to boardrooms.

Another challenge for businesses is remaining accountable for how inclusive their employment and promotion policies and practices are. Without accountability we always leave our business open to the danger of slowly regressing back to old practices of not valuing diversity as was seen at Wells Fargo earlier this year. Reporting to have changed their ways after the 2013 discrimination scandal, only 9 years later we find them allegedly setting up “fake interviews with diverse job candidates in order to boost diversity numbers” (Avery Hartmans, 2022). It is essential, if our intentions are genuine, to build accountability into our systems. At Crystal Doors we have grown tired of seeing too many large businesses claiming to operate ethically, for the good publicity, but continuing to operate unethically behind the scenes. We resolved to not fall into the same trap and have taken measures to build transparency and accountability into our systems. When it comes to ethical employment and promotional practices, we have found B-Corp certification to be an in depth and robust certification. I would suggest that all strategies for ethnic minority inclusion in management are meticulously verified by similar 3rd party reporting. Without it, all our strategies may amount to nothing more than hot air in the years to come, leaving minority groups tokenised by corporate agenda. Transparency is a health part of ethical business practices, and it allows us to not only remain true to our words but also celebrate our growth as we put our positive steps on display.

Inclusion can too often become a tick box exercise. And when it does, inevitably talent will be dismissed to meet a quota. We must proactively encourage our businesses to value diversity whilst building robust practices that ensure our strategies are not performative but genuinely beneficial to minority groups. 

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