Diversity – Paranoia or a real issue?

I want to gauge your views on the subject of diversity within the boardroom.

To date, I’ve not really been one for sharing views etc, instead preferring to read and act as a knowledge accumulator. However, the topic of diversity has really got me thinking…I feel a sense of passion and a burning desire to ‘have a say’ on the subject. I suppose my passion and desire stems from a personal perspective thinking about my children and their futures within the corporate world (should they choose this path) and that of past experiences throughout my professional career to date.

I spent the first seven to eight years of my life in a very diverse, multicultural society in the Caribbean. My family are likened to the United Nations because we have representation from all parts of the world. 

I suppose this is reflected in my views…we are all human and one race!

My children, who are from differing cultural backgrounds are British. However, they fall into the BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) tick box when it comes to diversity criteria. My concern for them is, should they want to pursue a career in a FTSE 100 company, would their chances of succeeding and accomplishing their goals be limited due to their genetical make up? Is this fair…? Should they be at a disadvantage due to their ethnic categorisation? I mean, they’re British born and bred, honouring British values…should this even matter re: being British?

I worked in the banking sector for circa 8 years and now co-run a recruitment consultancy in the City of London, founded 3 years ago. I must be honest, in the early days of my professional career this topic was not even a consideration. However, the more I drove myself to succeed and progress, the more I began to think about diversity and equal opportunities. It appeared the higher I progressed up the corporate ladder (toward board-level) the more reduction there was in ethnic and gender diversity. I would think about this dynamic, but always kept my head down and drove forwards. I would say at this point in my career, I put the lack of representation down to a level of acceptance from non-‘White-British’ professionals that’ that’s just the way things are’. Did I also unwittingly fall into the same stereotypical trap?

In 2014 I decided to co-found a Finance and Tech recruitment search consultancy in London, focusing on Exec Search as well as mid-level roles. My experiences to date have really highlighted the behaviours towards candidates from diverse ethnicities. There is frequently a stigma or stereotypical view of non-’White British’ individuals…

Is this a wider society issue? 

I’m currently leading our firm’s proposition into the executive search sector. If I look at my diary for meetings, target list of CEO’s, non-execs and chairpeople, the ethnic background of these individuals predominantly reads ‘white male’. Now, before I go any further, I must state that I don’t personally see this as an issue because, to be honest, this is how most of my meetings have always been. It does not phase me or hinder my approach; however, I am now representing several individuals who want to take that next step into an exec position. Many are from a diverse range of ethnicities, so how do I advise them?

Am I expected to alter my beliefs, morals and my business model and only recommend candidates based on a stereotypical gender and ethnic profile that I think will blend in with the standard, corporate banking model..? At the end of the day I must generate income, so is the expectation that I rethink the types of individuals I am representing to improve our chances for placing candidates in banking roles at Exec level?

…or am I right to stand up and drive for change, suggesting the very best, most talented candidates for each role regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference or any other protected characteristic.?

As such, when I interview individuals for our own business, I never think about their colour, beliefs etc. The criteria for hire has and will always be based on ability and values. However, I often wonder how I am viewed by others. It is strange to think this way…is it valid or am I just being paranoid?

I guess I am more aware of this perception because of experiences I’ve encountered since co-founding the recruitment business. I cannot state this as a fact, but when I sit in meetings with my co-director, who is classified as a ‘white male’ and when we’re confronted by prospective business partners there always appears to be more attention or focus on him.

Do these prospective business partners perceive that he has more influence or power? Do they see me as a supporting act? Am I now over-thinking the whole scenario/topic of diversity, and do I appear less confident because of it?

Could it be that other non-’White British’ individuals are overly concerned about others perception of them, and therefore don’t self-promote..?

I started this discussion based on this article which discusses ethnic diversity representation within the FTSE 100 companies and linked in my own experiences and beliefs. However, the question I ask is:

Is this a wider society issue or is it simply a case that individuals from an ethnic background do not promote themselves enough to be provided with the Exco opportunities? The statistics stated in the article are concerning (see below), but how do we change this? Through better use of big data and transparency..? 

The Parker Review Committee report recommends the following:

  • Increase the ethnic diversity of UK boards by proposing each FTSE 100 board to have at least one director from an ethnic minority background by 2021, and for each FTSE 250 board to do the same by 2024.
  • Develop a pipeline for candidates and plan for succession through mentoring and sponsoring, identifying, attracting, retaining & promoting the best talent, irrespective of the gender, ethnic background, religion or other defining characteristic of any candidate.
  • Enhance transparency and disclosure to record and track progress against the objectives.

I am not an advocate in promoting an individual purely to fulfil a quota requirement. It should always be based on ability and values. However, is this the only way to increase diversity?

Do you agree that the way forward is to increase the diversity in FTSE 100 boardrooms by implementing quotas, or will this result in resentment from others?

By Sunil Dial