Ethnic minorities want firms to do more on senior level diversity

Despite a focus on diversity initiatives, there is a lack of ethnic minority role models

Ethnic minorities are still reporting experiences of discrimination and do not feel there are enough diverse role models in senior leadership to aspire to, a UK survey has found.

In its sixth year, reboot.’s Multicultural Britain Study reported although just over half of ethnic minorities said businesses have made an authentic effort to focus on diversity and inclusion in the past year, they also feel their ethnicity can hinder career prospects, with almost half (46%) indicating they are less likely to reach CEO level at large companies.

This rises to 63% among Black respondents, whereas only 12% of white respondents reported similar feelings.

Campaign group reboot., which runs a video series with ESG Clarity, enlisted Opinium to carry out an online survey of 2,000 UK adults with a nationally representative sample from ethnic minority backgrounds.

As well as the views on becoming a CEO, the survey also found only 43% of ethnic minorities said their workplace is doing enough to ensure the senior/leadership team is diverse, while more than a third (36%) say the senior/leadership team at their workplace is less diverse than the overall team.

At the same time, 80% said seeing people of their ethnicity in senior leadership positions is important, and seven in ten (72%) stated seeing someone like them in a senior position makes them feel that they can reach that position one day.

Diversity initiatives

However, there were some indications of progress at UK firms.

Just under half (47%) of ethnic minority workers said their employer had taken some action concerning racism and ethnic diversity during the past year, a slight increase on the 40% who said their employer had taken some action in the immediate aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

Almost a third (27%) reported their employer had introduced new diversity and inclusion initiatives, and just under a fifth say their employer has released an internal statement of support about anti-racism or had reviewed internal structures and policies on diversity and inclusion (both 17%).

Wider society

Sadly, almost two-thirds said they experience discrimination, with those who are African, mixed race or Caribbean reporting the highest levels (67%, 69% and 84% respectively). 

These figures have fallen overall with 42% reporting they experience abuse, dropping from 52% in 2020, but the numbers are still concerning.

Seven in ten (70%) of those from an ethnic minority background think racist beliefs are widely held in society, while not openly talked about.

The survey asked ethnic minorities the forms of discrimination that take place on a day-to-day basis, and the most common behaviours identified were:

  • Someone making a racist comment but making it sound like a joke (45%)
  • Someone making comments with racist undertones (39%)
  • Seeing something racist on social media (36%)
  • Someone making negative comments about immigration (36%)
  • Seeing strangers avoid someone due to their race or dress (32%)

Noreen Biddle Shah (pictured), founder of reboot. and head of communications at Numis, commented on the results: “Race and ethnicity have certainly gone up the corporate agenda these past couple of years, but there is still some way to go before we see parity in numbers.

“Ethnic minorities place a huge importance on role models. Seeing people of their own ethnicity in senior leadership positions makes them feel they can climb to the top of the corporate ladder, yet less than half think their workplace is doing enough to ensure the senior team is diverse.

“Beyond the moral argument, reflecting multicultural Britain is fast becoming a reputational imperative for companies thanks to more shareholder and employee activism around social impact. And let’s not forget, for companies, this presents a huge commercial opportunity as well.”


Natalie Kenway

Natalie is editor in chief at MA Financial covering ESG Clarity, Portfolio Adviser and International Adviser. She was previously global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist...