Smart Moves: How to beat race barrier in business

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The Independent Online
Employers who fail to seek an ethnically diverse workforce could be in for a nasty surprise. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has backed a call to force companies to carry out formal and regular reviews at board level on the way they tackle discrimination.

"I want to see racial equality on the agenda of every boardroom in this country not only because it is morally right, but because it is good for business and good for Britain," he has informed the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

Keith Vaz, a junior minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, added that "if legislation were to force companies to review their diversity policies at least once a year, it would ensure that companies prone to prejudice could no longer get away with it, as well as recognising that many companies actually don't know what they ought to be doing to support diversity".

Should this call become legislation, Mr Vaz believes the private sector will be hit the hardest. "Figures within the private sector are frankly lamentable and so I think many companies will need to carry out a review more than once a year," he said.

Nevertheless recent research by Oxford-based occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola revealed that the companies currently most favoured by ethnic minority students include Glaxo Wellcome, British Airways, BT, Cadbury Schweppes and Boots, while the least preferred are public sector organisations, including government departments, the police, local authorities and in particular the armed forces.

What is clear, however, is that small companies would suffer more since they tend to attract fewer students from ethnic minorities. "Such organisations need to take a long, hard look at their equal opportunities policies and ensure that they use the right means to advertise career opportunities,"claims Dianah Worman, equality adviser at the Institute of Personnel and Development. ''Otherwise, they can't honestly say they are making the most of the skills of the whole population." Companies should also make use of the mentoring scheme used by such companies as Motorola and Sun Alliance, said Mr Vaz. The scheme enables black and Asian graduates to spend a week with senior managers, learning about the organisation's culture. This includes meetings with the chief executive and contact after the week has finished. After all, claims Mr Vaz, even in companies where recruitment methods are non-discriminatory "there has been very little progress so far in making sure people from ethnic minorities have equal opportunities when it comes to promotion".

Indeed, research due to be released shortly by Mr Vaz will show that in the UK's top 100 companies, black and Asian people account for only 1.75 per cent of senior managers. The original concept of companies having to carry out regular discussions on racial matters came from Camelot, the National Lottery organiser.

"We've been working on equal opportunity issues for a considerable period of time," explained Sue Slipman, director of social responsibility. "We're a new company, but a big one, so we feel we ought not only to be getting it right but to be setting standards for the rest of the country. And it seemed to us that the only way to ensure equal opportunities are in place is to develop evaluation systems where monitoring is involved," she added.

Not surprisingly, the CRE wholeheartedly supports the idea. Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman of the CRE, noted: "With 13 per cent of graduates now coming from ethnic minorities, business has to recognise and remove the barriers to development within their organisations in order to be competitive."