Last updated: September 14, 2006 2:12 pm

Ask the expert: Diversity in the City

Q&A Diversity

Should we tackle inequality in the City? Following the lively response to his article in the FT’s letters page, Chuka Umunna of Compass, the left-wing pressure group answers FT.com readers’ questions in an online debate.

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Interestingly, I used both my maiden Chinese surname and also my husband’s surname to apply for jobs. With the same qualification on both CV, I receive a lot more job interviews on the one with my English husband’s surname. Is this discrimination? However, once I have found a job, I did not notice any discrimination whatsoever in the workplace, or with business partners and clients. Do you think discrimination comes mainly from the recruitment agency or the employer?
Christine Chow Knowles, Prague

Chuka Umunna: Very interesting Christine. We have all seen the special investigative reports carried out by the broadcast and print media, where different surnames have been used with similar results. Is this discrimination? Well, if the only difference in the application is the name, then what other reason can there be for the disparities? I really don’t know – I hope not but what other conclusion can be drawn? Is it the recruitment agencies or the employers? I am not sure – probably both – claims have been successfully brought against agencies and employers

But I must say I think that class and culture are the big barriers which, of course, have a greater negative effect on ethnic minorities. After all, it is easier to “fit in” as a white, working class person from humble beginnings, than a person of colour where your roots are there for all to see. Interestingly, many of those ethnic minorities who do make it in the City schooled in private sector. Also, the South Asian community is better represented in the City than African Carribeans – this, I suspect, is because the South Asian community has a burgeoning middle class, whereas the African Caribbean community’s middle class is still in its infancy

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When it comes to diversity, how are you reconciling your campaign with the real need for the higher representation of women in the City as, I paraphrase you ‘considering that at least one in two Londoners is a woman’?
Lilly Evans, UK

Chuka Umunna: Gender inequality in the City has been written about extensively, not least following the recent multi-million pound sex discrimination cases brought by Stephanie Villalba (against Merrill Lynch), Claire Bright (against HBOS) and others. Ethnic diversity issues, however, have not received as much coverage until now.

I think gender diversity is still a big issue in the City which needs to be addressed. However, it would not have been possible to do justice to both issues in one piece, which is why I focused on ethnic diversity in my article.

Having acted for several female City employees, I am all too aware of gender inequality issues. I don’t think campaigning for greater ethnic diversity presents a conflict with campaigning for greater gender diversity – of course, there are many ethnic minority women keen to get on in the City too.

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The South Africa transformation process is occurring in conjunction with strong legislation on employment equality. Even with strong legislation, the process will take South Africa many, many years. The City remains shockingly white, when one considers the racial make-up of London. Methods such as government tender policies cannot succeed in isolation and could take many years to have any effect. What methods are you proposing, which will change the racial dynamics of the City within the next say 60 years? And does the UK have the political will we have in South Africa?
Richard Bone, Johannesburg, South Africa

Chuka Umunna: Richard, I think the political will is there. The Mayor of London has already included diversity in the Greater London Authority’s procurement processes and I understand that the British Government’s Department for Work and Pensions has already taken preliminary legal advice in relation to the same with regard in its own procurement decisions.

I am not sure government alone can bring about change, which is what spurred me to write the article and seek to kick off a debate. It is for all of us who want to see change to go out there, campaign, and actually make the business case for diversity – money talks after all. Already organisations are doing this. My friends at Committed2Equality, which is a not for profit organisation that advises businesses of all types on equality and diversity, have found that clients who have increased their diversity have seen an increase in profitability too.

This needs to be highlighted. And I know from experience that more blue chip companies that ever before are taking into account the diversity of their service providers when deciding which professional service firms to instruct. So things are changing, it will take time and I do not see any one measure bringing about the change we wish to see.

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Do you believe in full scale active positive discrimination and alongside this doesn’t the language of integration in the UK need to be amended? In the US this is termed affirmative action whereas in Europe there appears still to be semantic negativity attached to the issue.
Jaime Burnell , Singapore

Chuka Umunna: I do not believe in positive discrimination for the reasons I have already given below. The equivalent to US “affirmative action” in this country is “positive discrimination”. Positive “action” here is lawful - this where ethnic minorities are encouraged to apply for roles and are given extra training etc. but it does not allow for discrimination at the point of recruitment.

I do agree that we need to look at language. Too often we discuss diversity issues in the context of discrimination (and possible Tribunal claims) - I think there is a need to positively state the business case and benefits of diversity.

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I presume Mr Umanna objects to the under-representation of British-born white and Asian males (and females) in the Arsenal football team, too? The fact is, the City has become a meritocracy similar to professional sport. It is the key to its success and, quite frankly, has created an incredibly multinational and cultural environment. Nobody would expect Arsene Wenger to build a winning team based on racial quotas. Why do so for teams of City professionals?
Stephen Pollard, London, UK

Chuka Umunna: Stephen, let me say this loud and clear - I do not believe in quotas.

Quotas are lawful in the US, they are not lawful here, nor would I want them to be. If you had quotas, ethnic minorities would be treated as second class workers, not quite up to the job but there to make up the numbers - I would have hated to have carried that label round my neck during my years in the City.

You do not need quotas and positive discrimination to increase representation in the City - why do you presume otherwise? The facts are clear - there is an under-representation of ethnic minorities in the City and in our FTSE100 board rooms. Either there are not enough ethnic minorities who have the requisite skills, knowledge and ability applying for roles there, or there are not enough applicants. As I said in my article, record numbers of ethnic minority students are entering higher education and they are more likely to go to university than their white counterparts. More of them are entering the professions than ever before and there are a lot more (though not enough) coming through the elite

Russell Group of universities in 2006. So they have the skills. So why aren’t they being recruited? Straightforward racism is too crude an answer to this question - it is more complex than that, which is the point I make in the article and why I delve into issues of class and culture.

As for the Arsenal football team, I am not a sports expert or an Arsenal fan, so have no empirical knowledge to hand - perhaps the under-representation of South Asian males in the premiership has something to do with the low popularity of football in those communities, as opposed to cricket? I won’t pretend to know the answer.

I accept that those who claim that City jobs are not as popular amongst ethnic minority communities may have a point. That said, I am concerned about the lack of representation in football of our South Asian communities as I think football globally has been a great vehicle for the promotion of social cohesion which is obviously an issue at the moment.

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Aside from the unfairness, the effect of raising ethnic minorities to positions above those more competent will result in a massive reduction in GDP and quality of life for all. For all its drawbacks, the great benefit of globalisation is to free us all to work in accordance with where our comparative advantage lies, regardless of race. I do believe that race issues are often pursued by those with another agenda, namely to use minorities as a lever with which to ratchet up the state controls and infringements on liberty. Aren’t racial quotas the antithesis of liberty?
John F Dyke, Guernsey

Chuka Umunna: John, nowhere in my article do I advocate “quotas” or “raising ethnic minorities to positions above those more competent”. Why do you (and many others) presume that increasing diversity will necessitate positive discrimination? You presume that there are not enough ethnic minorities who deserve to be recruited on their own merits regardless of their ethnicity in the City. Why?

I have no agenda other than a concern for greater equality and a level playing field in one of the most powerful institutions in this country which has the power to bring down governments (witness Black Wednesday - 16 Sep 1992 ) and change the control of some of our oldest corporations (witness the takeover of the Forte Hotel group).

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Surely there is discrimination against Europeans in London as so many companies are focused on ‘diversifying’ by hiring non-white, non-Europeans?
Nicklas Gustafsson, Paris

Chuka Umunna: Nicklas, where is the evidence for this?

Diversifying does not necessitate positive discrimination. It does annoy me that there is a presumption among some that ethnic minorities are asking for favourable treatment, when all we want is a fair chance to show we can make City institutions as much money as others. One of the central points I was making in my article was that there are plenty of able, well qualified, ethnic minorities out there in 2006, who are not being recruited and deserve to be recruited on their own merits.

Ethnic minorities (and others groups, such as women and older employees) are under represented in the City. Many who have responded negatively to my article cite anecdotes (never a good measure) and say the “City is meritocratic” and the institutions there simply recruit those who “will make them money” - if this were the case, the only conclusion one could draw from the present state of affairs is that ethnic minorities (women, older people etc.) do not want to work in the City, and so there is a lack of candidates, or they do not merit being recruited into the roles there are. I do not accept this and it is not bourn out by the evidence either (I refer you to the statistics I gave in my article).

If it were the case that “Europeans” were being habitually subject to discrimination by employers positively discriminating in favour of “non-white, non-Europeans”, I would expect to see discrimination claims being brought by the Europeans you refer to, being passed up for positions by City employers positively discriminating in favour of “non-white, non-Europeans”. Such claims would get plenty of copy in our national press (much like the high value sex discrimination claims brought by female City workers) - I have heard of no such claims in the press, nor within the employment law profession.

Also I do not accept there is a distinction to be made between “Europeans” (by which I presume you mean “white” people?) and “non-white, non-Europeans”. I am non-white (mixed race, in fact) and I consider myself to be “non-white” and “European” - I do hope you are not inferring that the two are mutually exclusive.

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Getting a job in the City is probably tougher if you are over the age of 40 than being non-white. Finding someone over the age of 50 actually employed is at least as hard as finding non-white faces. What can be done to address the age discrimination situation which because it is directed against individuals, rather than groups is largely invisible until you are a victim?
James J Lee, London

Chuka Umunna: James, you raise an important and topical issue. I am not sure to what extent old age is more of an obstacle than one’s ethnicity, but it is an obstacle nonetheless. Manpower employment agency carried out a survey this year - more than one in three questioned believed they had been discriminated against because of their age when looking for work.

Obviously this does not mean that each person questioned in the survey had in fact been discriminated against on that ground, but it does show it is an issue.

What can be done? Well the government has finally implemented the European directive outlawing discrimination on the basis of age and the Employment Equality (Age Discrimination) Regulations 2006 will be coming to effect on 1 October 2006 as a result. I think this will bring about a large change in culture on the part of employers, if anything because there will be no cap on the level of damages for breach that an employee can claim (and “money talks” in the City).

I have been advising my employer clients on how to prepare for this change for the last year. To give you an idea of its likely effect in the employment arena - in Ireland, where equivalent legislation has been in effect for more than five years, age discrimination claims comprise almost the same number (22 per cent) of all claims as those brought on the basis of race (23 per cent) or gender (24 per cent).

The regulations will outlaw direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of age. The big problem for employees who believe they have been subject to direct discrimination of any type is demonstrating that the individuals perpetrating the discriminatory acts within the employer entity have done so on the unlawful discriminatory ground, in this case age. Unless a comment has been made to you (for example ”shut up, grand pa” etc.) or there has been some other communication indicating that your age has been in the mind of the discriminator, this is quite a difficult hurdle for employees to get over.

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Background

“If we are serious about building greater equality in Britain, we must tackle the rampant inequality in the City”, argues Chuka Umunna in the Financial Times.

Just 2.5 per cent of FTSE 100 board members are from ethnic minorities, according to Cranfield School of Management, and there is one non-white chief executive, Arun Sarin at Vodafone.

Mr Umunna finds these figures shocking when, as he points out, “one considers that almost one in three Londoners is from a non-white background.”

What is to be done? Mr Umunna believes that City recruiters who are serious about addressing ethnic diversity in the workplace should “widen the pool of universities they focus on and work with London’s ethnic minorities to improve access to work-experience programmes for youngsters.”

“In purchasing City services such as pension fund management”, writes Mr Umunna, “the government should invite tenders only from City businesses that publish diversity figures.”

Background

Chuka Umunna - A square mile still obstinately white

Letters

Mr Avinash Persaud - Square Mile diversity fades at the higher echelons

Mr Ricardo Folgado - A heartfelt view, but completely outdated in this modern City

Mr Hann C. Ho - City is one of the world’s most diverse business centres

Mr Harinder Sandhu - Ethnic minorities are simply not aware of opportunities

Mr Steven Parker - No more experiments - pensioners have suffered enough

Mr David Paul - State has failed intelligent working class children

Mr N. J. F. B. Samengo-Turner - A tenner for every old school tie you spot in the City today

Mr Chuka Mordi - Survival in the City is all about making money

Related Topics

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