Recent world events have acted as a catalyst for a renewed push for racial equality, and led many organisations to examine their own ethnic diversity. Many large companies and business organisations – such as the London Stock Exchange, Microsoft, M&S, BP, EY Fidelity International, Aviva and Schroders – have now made “diversity pledges” but over a year after major Black Lives Matters protests around the world – what has changed?
There is not a single black chair, CEO or CFO in any FTSE 100 company – for the first time since 2014 – and just 11 of those ‘top tier’ leadership roles are filled with individuals from an ethnic minority background. Ethnic diversity at CEO level actually declined from 4% in 2019 to 2% in 2021.
Many companies have imposed mandatory diversity training in an effort to improve inclusion and company culture, but unfortunately mandatory training in isolation does not work – and often it’s even creating a negative effect. In the United States, mandatory diversity training without wider intervention showed no improvement with the proportion of white women, black men and Hispanics in management, with black women actually decreasing by 9% on average alongside Asian-American men and women. Research has suggested these types of mandatory schemes can lead to resentment and anger.
Why it’s important
The importance of diversity and inclusion is not only representation in the workplace but a business imperative. Research has shown ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers and inclusion and diversity have been found to be the two areas with the highest impact on business performance.
So what does work? Mentoring. Formal mentoring programmes make companies’ leadership roles significantly more diverse. In the US, they have boosted the representation of black, Hispanic and Asian-American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men, by 9% to 24% on average. In industries with plenty of university-educated employees, like chemicals and electronics, mentoring programmes also increase the ranks of white women and black men by 10% or more.
“Throughout my career, in my industry there have been a lack of role models from a similar background as me. This made it hard to put myself forward to compete for senior roles – that required a belief that I really could advance. I was very fortunate to have mentors who helped me believe that I could succeed,” says Vickram Tikkoo Jr, Head of Equity & ESG Data EMEA at Bloomberg LP.
Mentorship does not force diversity – it empowers career progression. A major study of 6,000 people across 40 major UK organisations found that 87% of mentors and mentees felt empowered by their mentoring relationships and have developed greater confidence; 82% believe that mentoring relationships help foster meaningful connections between mentors and mentees, across departments and the organisation; and 84% reported that mentoring relationships provide two-way inspiration for mentor and mentee.
“As an African American woman in England, I belong to the minority not just in the office but also at professional external gatherings and industry events. Not seeing your ethnic background represented within the sector you’re in can feel isolating. I believe mentoring programmes can make a real difference to ethnic minority leaders’ professional success, empowering them to overcome any blockages in their way – be it the lack of exposure or certain biases,” says Kimberly Baxter, Director, Production Learning & Development, at Warner Media.
BT launched an action plan in June of 2020 with targeted efforts to improve representation of under-represented ethnic populations, through diverse short lists and partnering with organisations to increase the flow of talent into BT. Focusing on the education of senior leaders, with a combination of reverse mentoring by colleagues from a different ethnic background and company-wide sessions around inclusion, together with a transparent approach to sharing data on BT’s current position, BT is committed to very ambitious targets to increase representation at senior and all levels of the company. A key part of this action plan was the launch of programmes aimed at providing sponsorship and mentoring to high potential under-represented colleagues.
Steve Cunningham, Talent Director for BT, says: “We demonstrated the case for positive action and are taking action in the way we identify, grow and create opportunities for colleagues from under-represented backgrounds. We know how important it is to have role models within the company and to have access to mentors who have shown what is possible and can share their learning and advice to shape the aspirations, beliefs and tools to develop their careers”.
Shilpa Shah, Director, Global Talent Acquisition & Candidate Experience, GE Healthcare, adds: “As a female ethnic minority person, I have at times in my career, faced some situations where being different from the majority came with its own challenges. Through joining the PAC, I wish to utilise my lived experiences – witnessing positive D&I culture from my own organisation, as well as finding ways to overcome ethnic background related obstacles – to help uplift and shape the future generation of diverse leaders.”