The lack of ethnic minority representation within British management is a delicate issue but some businesses are still having to be persuaded to tackle the problem head on. Business in the Community's two-year-old campaign, Race for Opportunity, is attempting to entice large companies to help by putting forward a simple business case. Research shows that ethnic minority spending power is worth a hefty £10 billion a year, that minority communities have higher grades of qualification than average, and that within 50 years an estimated one in five people in the workforce will come from these groups.
So are businesses attitudes changing? Some are, many aren't. Given the lack of monitoring and benchmarking, looking beyond the well-meaning rhetoric is difficult. An enlightened few of the campaign's members appear to realise that mere lip service is not enough. Companies such as Littlewoods, Northern Foods, British Airways, BT and the BBC are investing heavily in terms of manpower, by not only comparing their intake of ethnic minorities to the 5.6% national average, but also by attempting to break the figure down to account for local variations and the position of employees within the ranks, in order to find out where the imbalances are - and how to tackle them. 'It's not a campaign for the self-righteous who think they're doing well, because we're not. Regrettably we do not yet have sufficient representation of ethnic minorities at middle and senior management levels,' said an admirably frank Phil Ward, group personnel executive at Northern Foods.
But the fact that so few companies have joined the campaign is telling in itself. 'The key issue is that the willingness is there,' says Ram Gidoomal, chairman of the South Asian Development Partnership. 'We could move a lot faster. Some are really running all the way, but others aren't bothering at all. They just haven't woken up yet.'.