How to create more ethnic minority CEOs

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Getting more diversity at the top isn’t going to happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make a start, says Suki Sandhu

I often get asked why we need initiatives such as EMpower; if we want equality, why are we drawing so much attention to difference? We’re increasingly seeing diverse leaders rejecting labels – they want to be known for the great work they’re doing, rather than for their ethnicity.

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 effects that difference can have.

Although 12.5 per cent of the UK population has a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, only 6 per cent of top management positions are held by BAME individuals, and currently there are only six BAME CEOs in the FTSE 100.

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. I believe 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 the UK, Europe, the US 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 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, companies 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. Of course 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 that active steps can be taken to address any shortcomings. This isn’t a checkbox exercise; having a woman or someone with a BAME background 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 world we need to be proud of our labels and use them to our advantage.

Suki Sandhu is CEO and founder of INvolve and Audeliss, and tweets at @MrSukiSandhu

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