Ethnic Minority Leaders Experienced Discrimination En Route to the Top

July 13, 2016

Research out today on the views of ethnic minority senior executives and board leaders on workplace barriers reveals bias is part of the cultural norm.

The survey from Harvey Nash’s Engage network, representing leaders from all ethnic backgrounds, shows seven out of ten (71%) experienced ethnic discrimination in their career that has meant they have had to work even harder to reach board level or the most senior positions.

The findings highlight an unfair playing field tipped in favour of white men. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of ethnic minority leaders believe that the unconscious bias of CEOs and boards – which are 74% male and 95% white in the FTSE 100 – is hindering ethnic minorities from progressing to board level.

It also highlights the existence of an ‘old boys’ network. Sixty-two per cent of respondents believe that ethnic minorities are not in the circles or on the radars of leadership teams and executive search firms, meaning they are unlikely to be considered for board positions and businesses are missing out on a huge talent pool.

These figures emerge following a recent Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Inquiry that found just 13% of FTSE 100 companies provided training on equality law and avoiding unconscious bias to those on the board involved in appointments and almost a third (32%) of businesses continue to rely on personal networks to identify candidates.

In light of the recent EU Referendum result, the research presents a worrying backdrop as nationality and ethnic background have drawn the media’s attention. Improving diversity requires commitment from the very top of an organisation, however the research points to lack of action from the CEO and board, with over half (52%) of respondents believing that CEOs and leadership teams do not see the business benefits of diversity to the bottom line despite numerous academic and other studies such as McKinsey’s Diversity Matters.

The top three recommendations from the research to improve diversity on boards were: Target recruiters to include diversity on shortlists (36%), Educate CEOs and boards on the value of diversity (32%), and Insist on transparency and reporting on both the full recruitment process and ethnic diversity at executive and board level (28%).

Peter Reichwald, founder of Engage and Director at Harvey Nash Board Practice said:

“We should be deeply concerned by the evidence from the most senior ethnic minority leaders suggesting recruitment and promotion is not necessarily based on merit, but what you look like. Despite these barriers, these individuals have made it to the highest levels and we must ask ourselves if this is what we want for future generations.

“There is a clear mandate for boards and executive search firms to search wider and harness the vast talent pool currently over-looked, reinforcing the role of Engage. But there is a role for all of us to recognise there is an ethnic bias in business and we must take action to create a level playing field where individuals are not barred by factors out of their control.”

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