David Cameron must force companies to publish the ethnic composition of their workforces if the government is to increase diversity in Britain’s boardrooms, campaigners have urged, after research showed a decline in the number of ethnic minority executives.
Representation of black, Asian and ethnic minority executive board members fell to just 3.3 per cent in 2013, down from 5 per cent in 2012.
The percentage of senior managers rose from 5.7 per cent to 6.9 per cent over the year – although this came from companies making international appointments rather than from the British workforce.
Sandra Kerr, director of Race for Opportunity, part of the Business in the Community charity, said the results of its second annual survey were “disappointing”.
“This shows that the top of businesses are stagnating . . . and the government needs to show some leadership,” she said.
“One in four children starting primary school is from an ethnic minority, one in eight working age adults is from an ethnic minority and yet only one in 16 senior managers in businesses are from these groups.”
Ms Kerr, presenting research collated from 98 businesses, said the government was not taking under-representation of ethnic minorities as seriously at it should.
On gender, the government has been more proactive, setting a voluntary target of 25 per cent of all FTSE 100 boards by 2015, following Lord Davies’s review on women in the boardroom. The latest update, in October, showed that figure is now at 19 per cent.
“By backing gender breakdowns, the government has galvanised more companies into action,” said Ms Kerr, urging a similar approach on ethnic diversity. “We want fairness and the evidence shows us you need to have an action plan.”
Proposals to ask companies to set out the racial composition of their workforce have been floated in Downing Street as part of efforts to connect with ethnic minority voters, according to a senior Conservative.
“David Cameron is open to this but there is resistance from officials in the Treasury and the business department who are reluctant to make life any more onerous for business at this point in the economic recovery,” he said.
“I think we will get there. If you want to be the party of aspiration you have to show you mean it, rather than just saying it.”
The proposal for a voluntary code was put forward by Alok Sharma, the Tory vice-chairman for black and ethnic minority communities, earlier this year.
Supporters of the policy believe it would send a signal to these voters that the Conservatives have their interests at heart, amid concern over the party’s weak appeal among minority voters.
Advocates say increased disclosure requirements would encourage companies to recruit more employees from black, Asian and other minority groups. Applicants from these backgrounds are less likely than white candidates to be shortlisted for jobs in financial and professional sectors, according to the Race for Opportunity research.
BT topped the league of best-performing companies in recruiting and promoting people from ethnic minorities.
Other companies in the top 10 included Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Eversheds, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PwC and British Sky Broadcasting.