Black people ‘invisible’ in UK boardrooms despite talent pool

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Claudine Reid MBE says banks need to have ‘difficult conversations’ with communities who are under-represented in the sector (Picture: Claudine Reid)

Black people remain ‘invisible’ in UK boardrooms despite a ‘groundswell’ of talent, a leading social entrepreneur has said.

Claudine Reid MBE says there is ‘bottleneck’ of people who could bring diversity to some of the country’s leading firms, if they change their approach and shrug off their colonial antecedents.

Despite the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the UK, diversity took a backwards step, according to the figures published in the summer, with the number hitting zero after stalling for the last six years.

There are no Black people in the top three executive roles at any FTSE 100 companies, analysis by the Green Park leadership consultancy shows.

Separate analysis sponsored by Lloyds shows huge levels of distrust between Black entrepreneurs and the banking sector and government.

The finance giant has committed to increasing Black representation of 0.6% at senior grades to at least 3% by 2025 in line with the UK labour market.

Claudine, co-founder of South London community organisation PJ’s, was appointed as chair of the bank’s Black Business Advisory Committee in December 2020.

‘Black people are visible but invisible,’ she says.

‘Visible because of the colour of their skin but invisible when it comes to the skill, talent and ability that they can contribute to the boardroom.

‘There are issues including a lack of cultural fluency, biases that are no longer relevant to this time period and systemic issues.

‘As with my work with Lloyds, it’s about championing to organisations that what may have worked in the past is not working any more.

‘The shape, colour and nature of the communities we live in is changing rapidly and unless large organisations embrace that change, they’ll be doing themselves, and more importantly their bottom lines, a disservice.’

Claudine Reid is working with Lloyds to engender change at the banking giant through its Black Business Advisory Committee (Picture: Claudine Reid)

Speaking to Metro.co.uk for our State of Racism series, Claudine, 47, called on firms to reach out to grass-roots organisations and unlock the career ladder in inner-city communities.

‘It starts with large organisations being willing to have an open, hard conversation about systemic issues,’ she says.

‘There is not going to be a rose-tinted approach to this and there is going to have to be some unlearning and re-learning about what works in this post-colonial, post-Brexit, post-Covid era.

‘We are a completely new generation.

‘These organisations need to create cultural awareness and partner with grass-roots and local community organisations in order to gain trust and make sure Black people are comfortable asking for help.’

The Lloyds-sponsored report shows that only 43% of Black business owners trust banks to have their best interests in mind.

Even fewer, 27%, trust the government. More than half of those surveyed said they had experienced societal racism, according to the research from the Black Business Network undertaken by Savanta.

Lloyds is trying to increase diversity at senior levels and has set up a Black Business Advisory Committee to help make changes (Credits: PA)

This is despite the ‘Black pound’ having significant value, with firms owned by people of African and Caribbean background contributing £25 billion annually to the British economy.

‘The reasons for the distrust are complex and go back to the start of the banking industry,’ Claudine explained.

’They are steeped in colonialism, in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and for some people that is still very raw and prominent.

‘Now there’s a shift to wanting to make amends for that but it’s not a light-flick moment, it’s going to take time.

‘Much like you therapeutically bring someone around to a different way of thinking, it’s the same thing that the banking and other sectors need to do.

‘They need to be prepared to have conversations with community groups, to listen and follow up with investment and tangible action.’

Two separate reports have identified sharp disparities between leading financial firms and the Black community (Picture: Getty Images)

In April 2021, a Government-backed report sparked a furious reaction by concluding there was no evidence to show the existence of institutional racism in the UK.

Claudine said that while the barrier of race is a reality, how it affects those trying to earn promotions or grow portfolios is complex.

The self-starter who grew up in Croydon and inherited an entrepreneurial streak from her Windrush-generation grandparents, was shortlisted in last week’s British Black Business Awards 2021, which she highlighted as a reason to be positive despite entrenched inequalities.

‘Institutional racism is a systemic issue that permeates across the private and public sectors in different ways,’ she says.

‘For example, some people might have problems climbing the career ladder while others might not have access to opportunities once they reach a certain level or be part of the right network.

‘But there’s no doubt that the talent is out there, with a bottleneck of people ready to break through and Black people contributing no end to British society and the economy.

‘At the awards, the calibre of entrepreneurs and business professionals who were either classed as rising stars or leaders in the Black community was absolutely phenomenal.

‘When you have such an awesome line up of savvy people who are contributing to the British economy post-Brexit, post-Covid, who are able to push through, it begs the question of where institutional racism lies and its impact on social mobility.’

The answer in Claudine’s eyes is for the banks and other large companies to speak directly to the Black community.

‘Large organisations need to recognise and nurture talent and go to where the talent is, rather than to the same places all the time,’ she said.

‘For example, there are not many Black people at the redbrick universities, but there is masses of talent dispersed throughout the community.

‘If the large organisations listen and provide support, there is a groundswell of phenomenal people ready to break through.’

Green Rock CEO Raj Tulsiani says a ‘closed echo chamber’ between firms and consultants is preventing change at senior levels (Picture: Green Rock)

However Claudine might be a rare touchpoint as someone connecting the corporate behemoths with the inner city.

Green Rock CEO Raj Tulsiani is also wary of the view that institutional racism is solely to blame for the lack of diversity in the city, with obstacles being presented by the very headhunters tasked with refreshing boardrooms.

‘The cause is more a deep lack of expertise in talent management and attraction,’ he tells us.

‘Today’s problem is the culture of privilege in the chosen cadre of professional advisors and HR professionals relied on to increase choice who have no clue how to do it, so just copy what is not working elsewhere.

‘Just look at the white-led firms who have jumped on the bandwagon in the last year to see the direction of travel. This pushes minority experts and their companies out when their expertise is most needed.

‘It’s a classic closed echo chamber.’

Lloyds is working with the committee to increase the trust of Black business owners, which includes partnering with local communities and collaborating with schools and universities to provide entrepreneurship and mentoring.

The drive is underpinned by a Race Action Pan and a commitment to ‘large-scale change’ in order for ‘Black-owned businesses to thrive’.

Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact josh.layton@metro.co.uk

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