In London, Royal Bank of Scotland, Penguin, Arriva and Lloyds TSB, were on the first panel of leaders talking about some of the challenges they faced driving forward real action on this agenda. The case studies ranged from research highlighting the demand for authors who can write about the experience of black or Asian Britons living in the UK, to joining professional theatre and training to raise leaders' and managers' awareness of diversity and inclusion.
Awareness and knowledge about the issues are increasing. This is being achieved through research into demographic data from Census information, which clearly shows that the UK is diverse, and the future workforce is diverse. We need to recognise it and deal with it. The future challenge for leaders is to ensure that all the talk about improving diversity of both employees and suppliers is translated into action, so they truly start to "walk the walk".
Leeds Metropolitan University provides an excellent example of this transition. Pro-actively reaching into its community, it has developed an excellent mentoring scheme to assist refugees in the region to improve their language skills, gain further qualifications, find work placements and ultimately gain their desired employment.
In business and in the public sector, talented minority ethnic people are moving up the ranks, although progress is slow. I believe the starting point for any equal opportunities initiative has to be linked to a business's ability to effectively monitor the diversity of its workforce, so that it can celebrate any progress made, and recognise any potential areas for attention.
Beyond recruitment and retention, marketing and communication strategies must take heed of the changing demographics in the UK. Successful organisations don't just make sure they "know their market" better than before, they also reflect this in their own brand and image.
What do we see ahead for the next 10 years? Firstly, we haven't completed this agenda by any stretch of the imagination, but we have made progress. Our focus will be linked to finding out more through research into how companies achieve their bottom line. This year, 40 businesses in the RfO network estimated that £13.3bn of their collective profits could be attributed to their diversity initiatives. The days of wondering about the bottom line impact are now past.
Another priority will be how to engage other businesses in the diversity and inclusion agenda through the supplier chain, including exploring how we can work effectively with businesses owned by ethnic minority entrepreneurs.
The organisations participating in this year's benchmarking exercise have all demonstrated remarkable vision and determination to put race on their business agenda, and it is this vision and determination, which has resulted in clear and focused actions.
Sandra Kerr is National Director, Race for Opportunity
TEN TIPS FOR BUSINESSES
Race for Opportunity gives the following tips for businesses seeking to improve on their diversity and inclusion policies. For more information, visit www.bitc.org.uk
1 Identify a board-level race and diversity champion. Use this business champion to engage employees, leaders and opinion-formers, from all levels and parts of the organisation.
2 Identify the business case for diversity and inclusion specific to your organisation. Include changing demographic information across the UK labour market, the buying power of diverse customers and the opportunities presented by globalisation to inform this.
3 Communicate internally and externally your commitment to attract from the widest pool of talent. As an inclusive organisation that respects diversity, you have something to shout about!
4 Measure progress regularly against your race action plan, not just linked to HR policies but also measure client and customer interface through key performance indicators.
5 Review and evaluate programmes and actions regularly for effectiveness and impact.
6 Engage stakeholders: seek feedback from employees, clients and customers using surveys and focus groups.
7 Embed diversity and inclusion into community-based Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities to maximise the impact.
8 Increase supply chain diversity to attract a wider customer base and recognise new markets.
9 Actively seek opportunities to raise the profile of your brand as an employer of choice to the widest pool of talent available and remove any unwitting barriers to accessing your organisation.
10 Identify challenges for the future, plan action and celebrate success.