Why are there few people from ethnic minorities at the top of US and UK business?

Research points to three reasons. Senior executives tend to promote people like themselves. The lack of African-American men in leadership positions is an example. Qualities that in white men are seen as ambitious, in black men are seen as threatening. Secondly there are low expectations of black staff. Diversity policies, despite good intentions, can treat black staff as victims rather than encouraging ambition. Thirdly, leaders fail to advocate for talented black staff.

Which policies work?

Leaders have to be serious about wanting change and take an active role in spotting and promoting talent from under-represented groups. Recognise the ambition of colleagues from ethnic minorities and recruit and promote them.

What are the pitfalls?

Never fall into the trap of accepting that you must choose between diversity and quality. Diversity should extend the talent pipeline, not exclude people with potential. Recognise barriers, but develop talent and keep the bar high.

Are certain minorities more discriminated against than others?

Professor Kenji Yoshino from NYU in a report called Uncovering Talent found all groups of staff feel their organisation requires them to hide or change part of themselves to succeed. He coined the term “covering” and defined four axes along which individuals “cover”: appearance, affiliation, advocacy, and association. Suppression of our selves — and therefore probably our potential — is something that organisations ask of all of us. It’s effect on minorities is far worse.

Simon Fanshawe is partner and co-founder at astar-fanshawe, a consultancy that works with companies to create greater diversity in their staff and boards

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