In 2016, the Hampton Alexander review recommended that FTSE 350 companies should aim to achieve at least 33% of women on their boards by 2020. Progress has clearly been made on this front, with The Female FTSE Board report in 2020, reporting that the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards was 34.5%. On FTSE 250 boards, that percentage stood at 31.9%.  

However, only about 3% of female board-level roles within the FTSE 350 were held by women of black, Asian or other ethnic minority backgrounds. This only means one thing – women of colour are not only underrepresented on senior boards, they also are less likely to have role models to aspire to. 

Research from The Inclusive Initiative from the London School of Economics found that black women are the single least likely to be among the top earners in the UK, in comparison to any other racial or gender group. The data revealed that women experience substantial disparity in terms of their pay, hours and representation in top jobs. It also found that black women in particular had the lowest probability of becoming top earners no matter where they lived in the UK. 

So, how can those in leadership positions take decisive action to improve the inclusion of women of colour and other underrepresented groups at senior levels? Discover our five top tips for being more inclusive in the executive suite: 

1. Educate yourself. 

As somebody who holds power at a senior level, start taking responsibility and accountability for change. Do your research on inequality, and talk to people of colour and other underrepresented women in your organisation about their lived experiences. Take some time to reflect on your own life, privileges, and subconscious bias. Explore the options that may help to improve career advancement for your company’s diverse talent. 

2. Become an ally.

Often there is only one representative of women of colour at a meeting - and when she is not present, there may not be anybody advocating for her. Becoming an ally is our opportunity to stand alongside her and others from underrepresented groups. It means calling out the behaviour that could be demeaning, and challenging any obstacles that may get in the way of diverse talent climbing the career ladder. Use your influence in a positive way, by supporting their career and professional development, whilst making them feel welcome and that they belong. 

3. Diversify your network.

Having a wide and diverse professional (and personal) network is enriching for you. You will be exposed to different perspectives, thoughts, backgrounds and life experiences. It can also provide you with a diverse range of business opportunities. Whether it be new clients, or a new business partnership – you’ll be giving more underrepresented groups a chance to succeed. Try to attend some diversity workshops and events to show your support, and use these opportunities to learn more about the issue. 

4. Set the tone from the top. 

Setting the right example for others is imperative. Proactively advocate for people of colour by commissioning high-profile projects, and nominate underrepresented groups to drive them. Not only does this allow them to gain more exposure and broadens their experience, it also demonstrates that they matter, are a valued member of the team, and that you trust them to carry out important tasks.

hen you are recruiting for new positions, insist on seeing a diverse shortlist. Adopt a zero tolerance approach with recruitment agencies or hiring managers. When your business introduces training programmes or learning opportunities, ensure that people from all backgrounds are invited and able to attend. 

5. Mentor or sponsor those who need it. 

Mentoring is a fantastic way to contribute to the advancement of diverse talent. It’s the perfect way to let your mentees test their decision-making skills, without fear of judgement. You can become their confidant on the issues and challenges that they face every day, whilst giving them the knowledge, advice and confidence that they need to excel. Mentoring is a learning experience for both parties, as you get a deeper insight into the obstacles that your mentee may face, as a result of institutional racism. 

Sponsoring is different to mentoring. When you sponsor someone, you actively commit to becoming their advocate and finding them the opportunities that they deserve. You become the person that champions them, pushing them forward and introducing them to the right people. It means that you are proactively opening the doors to your own network and vouching for them when others rise concerns.  

To conclude… 

In order for change to happen, people in leadership positions need to be willing to stand up to do what is right and take on that responsibility to ensure that all of their people – including people of colour and underrepresented groups – have the opportunity to grow to the best of their abilities, and advance in their careers. It’s time to accelerate change. How will you begin? 

Want to learn more about supporting diversity? Why not brush up on your leadership skills with our Leadership Essentials on Appreciating Diversity?   

Part of this article first appeared in the Autumn 2021 edition of EDGE Journal, by Yetunde Hoffman.

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