Lack of diversity in UK’s top firms could hamper post-Brexit trade deals

By Shane Hickey – The Guardian


Warning of issues with striking deals with non-EU countries comes as study shows low ethnic minority boardroom presence. Britain’s biggest companies have been told that a lack of diversity in their boardrooms could hinder government plans to increase trade with non-EU countries after Brexit.


The warning comes as a report shows the number of FTSE 100 businesses with no ethnic minority representation at senior level has fallen from 62 to 58. However, none of the companies have CEOs or chief financial officers who are women from ethnic minority groups.

The study by the executive search company Green Park found that while there has been a rise in the number of non-white workers in the upper echelons of FTSE 100 companies, there appears to be a glass ceiling at the top levels of management.

Green Park’s chief executive, Raj Tulsiani, said the findings should be viewed against the backdrop of looming trade talks with dozens of countries outside the EU.

In light of the UK’s desire to increase trade with non-EU countries, the ongoing inability of our leading companies to attract and retain leaders from east Asian and African backgrounds should be a matter for serious concern,” he said.

The UK’s aspiration to be outward looking and open to business with the non-European world is hardly enhanced by the continued lack of challenge in the boards of our leading companies, still statistically and behaviourally dominated by men of similar cultural and educational backgrounds.

The study found that the senior management at Rolls-Royce is one of the least diverse in the FTSE 100. The engineering group ranked 90th for employing people from ethnic minorities and women at senior levels.

Last year, a government-backed review of ethnic diversity recommended that Britain’s top companies should bring an end to all-white boardrooms by 2021. The report, led by Sir John Parker, the outgoing chairman of the mining company Anglo American, said businesses were failing to promote sufficient numbers of people from ethnic minority groups to senior positions.

The results from Green Park’s annual leadership 10,000 survey raises questions over whether this ambition is achievable. While there has been a small decrease in the number of companies with all-white boards, the number of people from ethnic minorities holding one of the most senior roles – chair, chief executive or chief financial officer – has fallen by 18%.

There are three non-white chairs of FTSE 100 companies and four non-white chief executives, according to the survey. Six of the chief executives are women, including Alison Brittain of Whitbread and ITV’s Carolyn McCall.

There has been a 5% rise in minority representation outside the board, but the figures suggest a problem with progression to the highest levels of FTSE 100 companies, Tulsiani said.

It is a positive trend that in the pipeline we are doing better around race, but at the top of the pyramid, we have gone backwards slightly,” he said.

Rolls-Royce said it was working to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into its workforce.

We are well aware of the need to attract talent from more diverse backgrounds, not only into our business, but into the wider engineering and technology industry. It is particularly challenging to attract BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] engineers where numbers across the UK are currently low,” said Heather McVicar, a global diversity and inclusion consultant at Rolls-Royce.