TALENT: Ethnic representation on company boards needs to rise


by SANJAY BHANDARI

WE ALL used to do it. I know I did. Many Asian comedians refer to it with a mixture of nostal­gia and irritation at how far we have travelled, yet how much of the journey remains. I am re­ferring to that thing when I was a child (in the 1970s-1980s) when our parents would shout from the front room and all the kids would come rushing in with a sense of awed novelty because there was an Asian on TV.

We even felt that twinge of novelty every Sun­day as the theme tune of Nai Zindagi Naya Jee­van signalled breakfast of aloo paratha. Peak ex­citement in this period was reached on 25 June 1983 when Kapil Dev led India to victory at Lord’s in the Cricket World Cup. Not just an Indian role model on TV, but a whole team of them.

The first dedicated Asian TV programme on the BBC aired in October 1965. Appropriately, October has since become a natural annual pause to reflect on the broader progress of eth­nic diversity in the UK. October is also Black History Month in the UK, an annual celebration of the achievements of black people. This year marks its 30th anniversary. And there are several awards and power lists published in October celebrating ethnic minority role models.

This month, we have seen the government publish its Race Disparity Audit and Sir John Parker has published his final report into ethnic­ity on UK Boards. I was part of the Committee chaired by Sir John. The Parker Review found that FTSE boards “do not reflect the ethnic di­versity of the UK”. The findings show that eight per cent of UK board directors are from a non-white ethnic group (for comparison, 14 per cent of the UK’s total population is Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BME) and by 2030 it is expect­ed to be closer to 20 per cent). Three key recom­mendations from the report are that:

n By 2021, all FTSE 100 boards should have at least one BME director (hence the official title of the report Beyond One by 21);

n Companies should take steps to develop BME talent and plan succession; and

n A company’s annual report should be used to describe the efforts the organisation has made to increase diversity.

Are FTSE companies taking this issue seri­ously enough? It is tempting to speculate and infer from differential outcomes that there must be some form of discrimination at play and that business is not taking the issue seriously enough. This is too simplistic an explanation to a com­plex issue. My sense is that most clients are somewhere on this journey and The Parker Re­view will establish a common language and help to accelerate the journey.

At EY, we have a strategic goal to increase the diversity of our organisation and a concerted plan. This has resulted in an increase in BME Partners over the last five years from four per cent to nine per cent. We have similar increases in representation across the organisation. A case study of our approach is used in Parker’s report. Each business will have its own challenges, but here is the approach that is working for us:

n Build the business case for change. Why does diversity matter? There are studies that in­dicate that more diverse organisations, led in­clusively, generate more revenue, are more prof­itable and are more innovative.

n Drive from the top. This matters to our chairman, Steve Varley and it matters to our senior leaders.

n Set targets. For the last five years we have had a rolling three-year target of 10 per cent new part­ners being BME. Similarly, there are targets for proportionate recruitment, promotions and re­wards at each layer of the organisation. Business Unit leaders have to explain any discrepancies.

n Invest in coaching and mentoring. We dif­ferentially invest in leadership and mentoring programmes for our high potential BME talent to create future leaders. We invest in current leaders with our Inclusive Leadership pro­gramme. A diverse team will only generate com­mercial advantages if it is led inclusively.

n Celebrate success and role models. We know that role models can inspire the next gen­eration so we celebrate success.

We believe that a diverse organisation is not just the right thing for our people and for society. It is the right thing for our business to generate greater competitive edge. The creativity that is often a by-product of diversity is likely to be even more prized in the workplace of the future. This will present enormous business opportunity.

We have come a long way, but there is more to do. It would be great to add a UK equivalent of Satya Nadella (Microsoft) or Indra Nooyi (Pepsi) as role models. Not just Kapil Dev.

Sanjay Bhandari is a partner at EY, a professional services firm with around 14,500 people in the UK and around 300,000 people globally. Sanjay is based in London and focuses on strategic growth solutions for its assurance practice. Sanjay is also the Sponsor of the Race Strategy for EY UK.