Britain's boards still have a massive diversity problem

Big strides have been made in boosting the number of women, but ethnic minorities are still few and far between.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 15 Dec 2015

Although there’s still a long way to go, Britain’s boardrooms look well on the way to accommodating a proportionate number of female directors – even if too few of them are executives. But ethnic minority representation at the top of Britain’s biggest firms has actually gone into reverse.

Research out today from executive search firm Green Park Group found that 62 FTSE 100 companies had all-white main boards, up from 61 last year. What’s more, those from ethnic minority backgrounds are disproportionately in non-executive roles, and as a result 70 FTSE 100 ‘leadership boards’ (made up of board and other top-level executive directors) are also all-white.

The number of ethnic minority chief executives has managed to fall by a third in the past year, from six to four – as a result of the departure of Prudential boss Tidjane Thiam and the ejection of Petrofac and Amec from the FTSE 100. The remaining four are Reckitt Benckiser chief Rakesh Kapoor, Diageo’s Ivan Menezes (pictured), Carnival’s Arnold Donald and Said Darwazah of Hikma Pharmaceuticals, which joined the index this year.

‘This research reveals that the drive for diversity in Britain’s top companies is in danger of becoming a euphemism for more seats for professional white women at board tables,’ said Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, who is chair of Green Park Diversity Analytics.

‘While it looks like we will meet the targets set by the Davies Committee for gender diversity, it’s clear that we are going nowhere when it comes to improving social mobility and actually going backwards on ethnic diversity.’

Perhaps most worrying is Green Park's warning that the talent 'pipeline' of junior ethnic minority leaders is also drying up, so it's not just a problem at the top-tier. Unless companies act soon to boost the chances of ethnic minorities, too many of Britain's boards could remain all-white for the forseeable future.

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