Black History Month: How UK leaders are approaching corporate diversity

What do NASA, Google, the NHS and McKinsey have in common? It’s a question Aston University PhD student Andrew Marcinko brought to Real Business in the midst of conducting his own research. “All four spent millions analysing how varied teams affect business. The consensus? Corporate diversity has a massive potential to improve creativity and performance.”

This acknowledgement hasn’t stopped progress for black and minority ethnic (BME) employees from being slow, made all the more clear in reports released this October for Black History Month. The McGregor-Smith review found businesses weren’t reflecting the UK’s ethnically diverse nature, echoed by The Middle research, commissioned by the Black British Business Awards.

BME individuals represent ten per cent of entry-level positions, it claimed, a figure that drops to five per cent for leadership roles. And arguably, we have our own “unwillingness” to delve into the unknown to blame. Stakeholders made it clear in the report they wished to improve the situation, but were “hamstrung by the discomfort of discussing race in the workplace, fearing offence.”

This avoidance stifled, “if not prevented,” progress, according to the report: “It inhibits HR from challenging unfair practices relating to work allocation and questionable outcomes in recruitment and promotions discussions.” Unconscious bias, Marcinko added, also remained a difficult issue to address. But forcefully trying to rectify it could do more damage.

“Research shows we’re less likely to trust those we perceive as different than ourselves, and if that fundamental issue isn’t addressed on all levels then the following occurs. In many technology companies, such as Google or Apple, there exists a disconnect between talk and action,” he said.

“These companies have glowing web pages that preach about valuing diversity, yet are still nearly 80 per cent male in technology divisions – the BME numbers are far from flattering.”

Broader actions are needed by organisations to actually inflict change, he continued, starting with all talk being followed by the necessary action.

Wholly agreeing with Marcinko’s statement, Rebekah Wallis, director of people and corporate responsibility at Ricoh UK, believes mere warnings won’t raise BME individuals up the corporate ladder. The House of Lords documented in 2016 that the number of BME CEOs was falling – “and the amount of all-white boards increasing.”

“The inclusion of everyone should not be an afterthought, but a crucial part of any organisation’s talent management strategy,” she opined. It’s the type of approach Ricoh takes, with Wallis unveiling that people are a key driver to success.

“We see a focus on delivering and nurturing a corporate diversity as crucial to staying ahead of our customer needs. Increasingly, it will allow us to grow innovation, creativity and collaboration throughout the business.”

Of course, that has meant inclusion not purely being driven by HR. Instead, it needs to be embedded within the culture of the business, from the way leadership thinks to standard processes – a notion that has helped create a “common ethos that brings about wider change” for Ricoh.

Fostering support for BME individuals on a policy level and providing the necessary tools to make diversity happen are the other pillars it leans on.

These are just some of the ways to promote corporate diversity. In Fujitsu, for example, much emphasis is placed on employees collaborating with one another, as well as with customers and partners to foster cohesion.

Fujitsu, Penna and Business in the Community further highlight the numerous ways to inspire the next generation and create workplaces that are truly diverse

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