The importance of leadership for BAME employees' progression

Blog by Sandra Kerr OBE, Race Equality Director, Business in the Community

Last week I went to an event at Portcullis House with Operation Black Vote to celebrate the new Black and Asian ministers since the 2015 election. As part of the event the Home Secretary, Theresa May, spoke about Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation and progression in the police force – you can read my views on that here. Other speakers included the Business Secretary Sajid Javid who talked about the need for action not just words to boost progression and leadership for BAME people in the UK and government. It was great to hear from senior ministers on this issue and I hope it will lead to more action from the government on BAME progression.

Leadership was one of the key themes from our recent Race at Work report – we received over 3,000 comments from survey participants on this issue alone. The report also found 84% of BAME employees believe it is important to progress at work and 40% would take part in a fast-track programme (compared to 18% of white employees). However, this is not reflected in greater access to fast-track management programmes or inclusion in succession planning for all ethnic minority groups. If we do not populate the leadership pipeline across all sectors with sufficient BAME talent today, the senior management of the future will not reflect the increasingly diverse working age population.

We know that having senior leaders acting as equality and diversity champions within an organisation can have a significant impact on BAME employees’ progression in the workplace. Our analysis of data from the Race at Work report shows some interesting data on this. For example, although the West Midlands and London had the highest number of equality and diversity champions by region at 36%, the next highest was Northern Ireland with 35% - even though only 1.7% of the Northern Ireland population is BAME. Northern Ireland was also the highest ranked region for reporting existence of equality champions by both BAME and white respondents (27% and 38% respectively). This suggests that making equality champions visible to all employees is likely to increase employees’ perception of them, and I would encourage all employers to consider asking a senior leader to be their equality champion across the organisation.

Employers should also consider introducing a mentoring scheme to support their BAME employees’ ambitions to progress. Race at Work found workplaces are responding to BAME employees’ requests for mentoring and there is a higher demand for mentors and the BAME population and higher perceived value gained from the opportunity. At Portcullis House last week, a number of BAME MPs stood up and spoke about how they had benefited from a ministerial shadowing pilot with a strong mentoring component, which in turn helped some of them to become ministers. By applying a similar scheme in their own sectors, employers can benefit from ensuring that their talented BAME employees progress and remain with the organisation.

Race at Work included a number of recommendations for politicians and government, including commissioning a review of race equality in the workplace, a request for support to ensure that ‘and race’ is made part of the corporate governance code in 2016 and ensuring businesses tendering for public contracts are committed to race diversity. I am sending letters this week to several government ministers asking them to support the recommendations and will keep you updated on any responses we receive.