First published in 2017, Green Park and Operation Black Vote, developed the Colour of Power to graphically illustrate the lack of female and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) representation in the upper echelons of the UK’s most powerful institutions.
Our findings were that out of more than 1,000 of the most senior posts in the UK, only 3.4% of occupants were BAME and only 23.6% were female. Our hope was that in visually exposing the race and gender disparity in Britain’s leadership, whose decisions often directly or indirectly impact the everyday lives of our multi-cultural population, we could begin an honest debate in the UK about who wields power and what might be the unintended consequences as a result.
Three years on and June 2020 sees Black Lives Matter protests spread across the globe, sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the United States and fuelled by growing tensions of police brutality and racial injustice. In the UK, anti-racism protests have taken place up and down the country and the toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol has reignited debate about our own colonial history, national memory and institutionalised treatment and perceptions of race.
This has all taken place against the back-drop of the coronavirus pandemic, where the UK has one of the world’s highest death tolls, and findings of a Government-commissioned review have confirmed that among those diagnosed with COVID-19, the death rate is higher for BAME groups than white ethnic groups.
If ever there was a need for open and honest conversations about the UK’s relationship with race and power, the time is now. Our hope in relaunching the Colour of Power is to continue the current momentum of the anti-racism movement, but more specifically focus on the role of the corporate sector in perpetuating systems and ideals that do not support equal opportunity.
The Colour of Power 2020 demonstrates not only the disparity of power in the UK’s highest echelons, but the total failure to address it despite three years of government-backed targets and ample rhetoric about commitments to diversity & inclusion.
Just 51 out of the 1097 most powerful roles in the country are filled by non-white individuals, or 4.7% of the total number compared to the 13% proportion of the UK population. The 2020 figures represent a gain of only 1.2% or 15 additional roles since the Colour of Power 2017 index. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was responsible for a third of this increase, through his appointment of ten ethnic minority Government ministers, up from 5 in 2017.
The research covers the top roles across 39 categories including central and local government, public bodies, the private sector, education, sport and charities. Fifteen of these categories had no ethnic minority representation at all at their top levels in 2020; five categories have seen a decrease in BAME individuals over the past three years and more than half the categories (21) have seen no change.
As organisations across Britain and the world declare their commitment to improving equality and diversity, in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the research reveals that Black individuals are particularly under-represented with just 16 of the 1097 roles held by Black men and women – amounting to 1.5% compared to the national population figure of 3.6%.
Inequality in outcomes for BAME individuals across health, justice and education have been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. Green Park’s research reveals a virtually complete absence of BAME individuals in leadership roles in these categories – which could point to a lack of understanding of the issues faced by ethnic minorities.
Based on a 12% annual turnover rate – we calculate that a total of 395 positions would have new occupants since 2017. Even accounting for the fact that some individuals would have moved roles over the period but stayed on the list, we estimate that of 190 new names on the list, just 20 (10.5%) will be from minority backgrounds. At this rate of progress, representation amongst Britain’s top leaders will not reach the 13% representation in the current working population until at least 2044 – by which time the population will be more than 20% minority.
We need to acknowledge the inadequacy of the present state of inclusion. There is a deep-seated cultural denial about our present position, despite the irrefutable evidence. Evidence clearly shows our workforces and institutions are not reflective of their stakeholders. The Colour of Power is a call for accountability, action and change.
Simply measuring diversity isn’t enough to create change and drive inclusion. And randomly applying training solutions isn’t working either. Before diversity & inclusion strategies can be successful, a few basic principles must be established which underwrite any thoroughgoing commitment to inclusive action. Firstly, we must recognise that it’s no longer acceptable for members of the majority, however well-meaning they may be, to decide exclusively on the opportunities, outcomes and experiences of people who are different to them. If we’re to be inclusive in the way we ensure inclusion, then we need to begin with more diverse decision-making groups.
Where groups continue to under-represent their stakeholders, they need to design compensatory processes that acknowledge and nullify the disadvantages that minorities have accumulated. I know this approach will be greeted with cries of ‘double standards’. But double standards already exist. It’s obvious in the way BAME candidates fall away in the early rounds of recruitment.
Those in entrenched positions of power need self-knowledge and a willingness to adopt new perspectives. We need to let go of the myth of an achieved meritocracy and reform our working practices so that they are inclusive from the start. And we need to remember at all times that inviting people into decision-making processes is an antidote to groupthink.
The fact that one person – the Prime Minister – is responsible for a third of the increase in ethnic minority individuals on the Colour of Power list, reveals that if there is a will to make a difference, then change is achievable. But, boards across the public and private sectors must act now rather than make promises for later.