How to create more Ethnic Minority CEOs

BAME diversity
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By Suki Sandhu, CEO and founder of INvolve and Audeliss

I often get asked why we need initiatives such as EMpower; if we want equality, why are we drawing so much attention to difference.

More and more we see diverse leaders rejecting labels, they don’t want to be known for their ethnicity, but rather for the great work they’re doing. I think that’s excellent, that’s a world we should all be excited to live in, but the reality is, we’re just not there yet. We can’t sit quietly and expect change to just happen and we certainly can’t afford to be complacent.

There’s no hiding the colour of our skin – it’s there for everyone to see. We should use that to our advantage, to call out the all-too-often lack of diversity in the rooms we enter. We have a responsibility to talk about our success as diverse leaders and celebrate the positive impacts that difference can have.

12.5 per cent of the UK population are from an ethnic minority background, but only six per cent of top management positions are held by ethnic minorities and currently there are only six CEOs in the FTSE 100 who are from an ethnic minority background.

But what can we do about this? It’s not going to change overnight, we can’t go and fire all the older white men who currently sit in the majority of top seats. In my opinion, there are two clear ways that both businesses and individuals can begin to effect change; role modelling and recruitment.

We can be what we see.

We can’t underestimate the power of role models who are willing to stand up and be counted, proving that it’s possible to succeed as your authentic self. At INvolve we highlight diverse leaders and celebrate the excellent work they’re doing to improve inclusion in the workplace. Each year we publish the EMpower Ethnic Minority Leaders list in the Financial Times which is a powerful reflection and celebration of the incredible achievements of the ethnic minority business community in UK, Europe, United States and Canada. We shine the light on leaders to inspire the next generation.

We also encourage advocacy, celebrating those leaders who are not ethnic minority themselves, but who understand that for change to really happen, we all must become part of a multi-racial majority willing to fight for a more inclusive future. Businesses must equip all of their staff with the tools and confidence necessary to promote all forms of inclusion. Policies need to be fully inclusive and conscious inclusion training should be a regular feature at all levels.

Diverse teams make better decisions.

As well as role modelling leaders, businesses need to be working to ensure that they’re attracting and retaining diverse talent. To ensure everyone has an equal chance of success in a meritocratic environment they need to be recruiting from a diverse pool. At the end of the day the best person should always get the job, so it’s not about lowering the bar – it’s about widening the gate and looking at recruitment from a different angle. It stands to reason that if you always look in the same places, you’ll likely find the same thing.

Internally, organisations need to start reviewing diversity at every level and tracking staff retention so active steps can be taken to address any shortcomings. This isn’t a checkbox exercise; having a woman or an ethnic minority on a board doesn’t mean you’re done as a business and achieving senior positions as a minority, but refusing to talk about it, isn’t going to effect change for others.

In a perfect world we’d see all employees being valued for who they are and the talent they bring to the table, not what gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation they are. However, until we live in that perfect world we need to be proud of our labels and use them to our advantage.

Suki SandhuAbout the author

Suki Sandhu is CEO and Founder of INvolve and Audeliss.

Suki has worked in executive search for nearly ten years and is one of the UK’s leading specialists who is committed to helping businesses find diverse talent. He established Audeliss, a boutique executive search company in 2011.

INvolve is a membership organisation championing diversity and inclusion in business. INvolve is a motherbrand sitting above OUTstanding, EMpower and HERoes, membership initiatives working respectively across LGBT+, ethnic minority and gender diversity. Through the delivery of events, programmes, thought leadership and advisory services, INvolve helps member firms drive cultural change and create more inclusive workplaces. In addition, OUTstanding, EMpower and HERoes publish role model lists annually in partnership with the Financial Times, celebrating business leaders and future leaders who are leading the charge in their respective diversity spheres, and securing a diverse talent pipeline for the future.

Suki is also a Stonewall Ambassador and supports charities through donating a percentage of profits to Diversity Role Models, Albert Kennedy Trust, StandUp Foundation, Dress for Success, Clic Sargent and Terence Higgins Trust.


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