Targeting ethnic minority talent can help improve boardroom diversity

A meritocratic system is one based on talent, abilities and effort; why then are so few ethnic minorities in senior roles in UK corporates?

Data on ethnic minority progression in the UK suggests that structural inequality and systems within organisations can limit the opportunities for minorities. According to Universities UK as an ethnic minority, regardless of your social class or social capital, you are less likely to achieve a 2:1 in the UK. In addition, when entering the labour market, you are less likely to progress in UK organisations.

Ethnic minority

In our experience, when a business focusses on diversity and inclusion they can make a positive impact on the career progression and trajectory of ethnic minorities. At EY, for instance, we have taken targeted action by introducing a Future Leaders programme that supports the progression of high potential BAME professionals. Our aim is to increase the representation of ethnic minorities at all levels of our business.

From my own personal experience, I know that individuals from an ethnic minority are not always cognisant of the inequalities that can be at play in an organisation. From a young age they may have been told by parents ‘you will need to work twice as hard to be noticed’ or ‘keep your head down, do good work and this will be recognised’. They won’t know that there can be hidden obstacles and barriers along the way.

Driving change

As a global firm with growth ambitions, it is essential for the success of our business to attract and retain talent that reflects the global marketplace we operate in and to deliver innovation and diverse perspectives to our clients. However, like many organisations, we found that there is a good percentage of ethnic minorities amongst our graduate intake, but too few at senior levels, and we are changing that.

  • Firstly, and crucially to driving change, our leaders set the tone from the top – they are committed to leading inclusively through valuing and leveraging difference.
  • Secondly, diversity and inclusion are core to our business strategy and we put in place public targets to improve race diversity at senior levels of the firm.
  • Thirdly, the targeted programmes we have in place, including our Future Leaders programme, aim to empower our high performing ethnic minority talent to lead authentically in a style that suits them. Participants share common experiences and strategies for success.

In addition, EY focuses on the wider engagement of allies to build race fluency and unlock opportunities for our upcoming talent. Allies are key to creating deep-rooted cultural change.

The impact

The impact of our Future Leaders programme has been powerful. Participants tell us their they are more confident and clear about their career ambitions and they are more likely to stay with EY and progress. They also go on to act as positive agents of change.

There can be reservations surrounding targeted programmes, however, when they are part of a wider strategy, and their outcomes are measured, they can be incredibly impactful.  A dual approach that combines targeted action for the minority and broader cultural change for the majority can be highly effective. So much so that we are sharing our experience with our clients.

In the words of the Ruby McGregor Smith review, which produced a report on race in the workplace, ‘the time for talking is over and the time to act is now’. To prepare for the future of work, UK businesses must create an environment where all people are empowered to use their talents and strengths to achieve their personal and professional ambitions.

>See also: Talking about ‘hair’ can help us address unconscious bias in the workplace

Rukasana Bhaijee

Rukasana is a Diversity and Inclusion Senior Manager at EY. She works within People Advisory Services supporting client organisations to achieve their D&I ambitions through providing support at all...

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