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The time for talking is over. Now is the time to act: Race in the workplace

The McGregor-Smith Review

In the UK today we face significant challenges developing our economy in a world that is changing rapidly. Technology in particular is disrupting old industries and creating new ones at an unprecedented pace. For our economy and our businesses to be globally competitive and to thrive, it has never been more important to nurture and utilise all of the talent available to us.

The evidence demonstrates that inclusive organisations, which attract and develop individuals from the widest pool of talent, consistently perform better. That is the business case. But I believe the moral case is just as, if not more, compelling. We should live in a country where every person, regardless of their ethnicity or background, is able to fulfil their potential at work. Sadly, we are still a long way from this.

There is no reason why every organisation in the UK should not have a workforce that proportionately reflects the diversity of the communities in which they operate, at every level. This is what our collective goal should be, and has guided the recommendations I have made in this report.

BME individuals in the UK are both less likely to participate in and then less likely to progress through the workplace, when compared with White individuals. Barriers exist, from entry through to board level, that prevent these individuals from reaching their full potential. This is not only unjust for them, but the ‘lost’ productivity and
potential represents a huge missed opportunity for businesses and impacts the economy as a whole. The potential benefit to the UK economy from full representation of BME individuals across the labour market, through improved participation and progression, is estimated to be £24 billion a year, which represents 1.3% of GDP.

As part of this review, we consulted with a wide range of individuals to understand the obstacles to progression and their impacts, as well as identify some of the best practice that is already in place. There are many organisations that are doing really great things. But we found that the obstacles are both significant and varied.

In the UK today, there is a structural, historical bias that favours certain individuals. This does not just stand in the way of ethnic minorities, but women, those with disabilities and others.

Overt racism that we associate with the 1970s does still disgracefully occur, but unconscious bias is much more pervasive and potentially more insidious because of the difficulty in identifying it or calling it out. Race, gender or background should be irrelevant when choosing the right person for a role – few now would disagree with this. But organisations and individuals tend to hire in their own image, whether consciously or not. Those who have most in common with senior managers and decision makers are inherently at an advantage. I have to question how much of this bias is truly ‘unconscious’ and by terming it ‘unconscious’, how much it allows us to hide behind it. Conscious or unconscious, the end result of bias is racial discrimination, which we cannot and should not accept.

There is discrimination and bias at every stage of an individual’s career, and even before it begins. From networks to recruitment and then in the workforce, it is there. BME people are faced with a distinct lack of role models, they are more likely to perceive the workplace as hostile, they are less likely to apply for and be given promotions and they are more likely to be disciplined or judged harshly.

We found that transparency in organisations is crucial. Career ladders, pay and reward guidelines, and how and why people are promoted are often opaque. Perhaps more importantly, many organisations do not even know how they are performing on this issue overall. Until we know where we stand and how we are performing today, it is impossible to define and deliver real progress. No company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion can be taken seriously until it collects, scrutinises and is transparent with its workforce data. This means being honest with themselves about where they are and where they need to get to as well as being honest with the people they employ. That is why I was disappointed that only 74 FTSE 100 companies replied to my call for data and shocked only half of those were able to share any meaningful information. One of the key recommendations I am making is for organisations to publish their data, as well as their long-term, aspirational diversity targets and report against their progress annually. I truly believe that making this information public will motivate organisations to tackle this issue with the determination and sense of urgency it deserves.

It is no surprise that leadership and culture play a key role in creating obstacles while also providing the solutions that enable BME individuals’ success. It is critical that support for building an inclusive business comes from the top – this agenda needs broad executive support, which needs to filter down through organisations. We have also found that mentoring and sponsorship have consistently delivered results and it is incumbent upon all management to play their part in supporting people from all backgrounds.

Language is something that was consistently raised throughout this review as being hugely difficult. Most people today still find it really hard to talk about race and ethnicity, particularly in the workplace. Business leaders need to create inclusive cultures that enable employees to bring their whole selves to work and encourage people to talk openly – these things take time but this is a goal that every business should be working towards. I am recommending that the Government produces a comprehensive guide for business on how to talk about race in the workplace.

Whilst there is no doubt that we face a long road ahead and have a lot of work to do before our workplaces are truly equal, there is also much to be positive about. Throughout this report we have highlighted some of the incredible things that are being done by organisations across the UK to create more inclusive workplaces. We already have so many of the solutions to tackle this issue; they just need to be applied more broadly. I encourage all organisations to take this best practice and adapt it for their own workplaces.

While undertaking this review I have met so many people who are deeply passionate about these challenges and are doing amazing things to create change. I would like to thank all of the individuals who contributed to this review and offered their thoughts and wisdom so candidly, on what can be a very difficult topic.

From a personal perspective, I came to Britain when I was two years old. Having grown up in an Asian Muslim family, what has struck me the most during this review is that the feelings of exclusion and judgement on the colour of my skin, my underprivileged background and being a woman, were all things I had hoped were in the past.

However, I have been saddened to see that it is not the case. Britain has been the only home I know and I believe it is an extraordinary place to live and grow up in, despite the fact that it was very painful at times, because feeling excluded is a very lonely, difficult place to be. I overcame many barriers to achieve
what I have done in business, but even today I am seen as someone different. There are so many others like me, who want to see the end of discrimination based on background, race, privilege and gender.

Speaking on behalf of so many from a minority background, I can simply say that all we ever wanted was to be seen as an individual, just like anyone else. I can only thank those who saw talent in me, those who looked beyond my colour, background, religion and the fact that I am female. That is how we all need to be and I hope the findings and recommendations in my review help to set the roadmap for change.