UK employers have been told to take “urgent action” to support workers from ethnic minorities, after a survey found the number of black professionals in leadership roles has barely moved since 2014.
Business in the Community, the group founded by the Prince of Wales to support responsible business, said black people held just 1.5% of the 3.7m leadership positions across the UK’s public and private sectors in 2019, compared with 1.4% in 2014.
That is despite black people making up more than 3% of the population and England and Wales.
The survey looked at representation across a wide range of sectors, including the police, journalism and the civil service. It said just 1% of the police force identified as Black African or Black Caribbean and that of 39 appeal court judges, none were black.
Meanwhile, white professionals held about 89.6% of the UK’s leadership positions across both the public and private sector, down about 1% since 2014. That is higher than the white population across England and Wales, which is around 86%.
Business in the Community said employers must review their internal culture, including how they help workers from black communities succeed in their organisations.
Sandra Kerr, race director at Business in the Community, said: “Twenty-five years after the organisation launched a race equality campaign, black people continued to be under-represented at a senior level.
“This lack of diverse leadership has a direct impact on decision-making. This is more crucial than ever when the evidence shows that BAME people continue to be disproportionately affected by Covid-19,” she said.
“Black livelihoods matter, and employers need to take urgent action to ensure that their organisation is inclusive and a place where people of any ethnic background can thrive and succeed.”
The report comes a day after a group of high-profile business leaders pledged to set diversity targets for candidate lists for every job vacancy in an attempt to boost ethnic representation.
It is the latest attempt by UK businesses to show that they are taking concrete action in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the mass protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last month.
It also comes ahead of a looming deadline set by the Parker review, which is pushing FTSE 100 firms to appoint at least one non-white board-level director by the end of 2021. The same target has been set for the FTSE 250 with a deadline of 2024.
In an open letter published in the Sunday Times, the bosses of companies including BT, Tesco, ITV and John Lewis said firms needed to address their own systemic racism.
“For years, diverse voices have pleaded for action on ethnic-minority inclusion in business,” the letter said. “The sad truth is that organisations have not been ready to have a challenging and frank conversation about systemic racism within the four walls of their own offices.
“This cycle of inaction and disengagement must end. As business leaders, we need to talk about white privilege. We need to talk about racism. We need to talk about the role we have played in maintaining this system for so long. Finally, we need to talk about how we will change.”
The letter, which was also signed by the heads of Sainsbury’s, advertising giant WPP and insurance firm Direct Line Group, said each business would set “targets for diverse candidate slates for every vacancy in our companies.”
Last week one of the signatories – the John Lewis Partnership – was criticised after it emerged that just six of the retail group’s top 158 UK managers were people of colour. The numbers also dwindled among its permanent senior UK managers, where only three of its directors – including chairman Sharon White – were from an ethnic minority. White pledged to improve the retailer’s diversity when she took over in February.