The Debate: Promoting ethnic diversity

Talent lies in new communities

By Mohan Yogendran

Professional services firms hire on talent. So why is ethnic diversity an issue? One reason is that, with more operating internationally, having teams that understand ethnic diversity is essential in advising businesses.

Of course no community has a monopoly on global mind-sets, but having teams with very little experience of living and working elsewhere is hardly going to help.

Many companies, particularly retailers, have learnt the power of differentiated marketing and diverse workforces in responding to customer needs. For example, Business in the Community’s Race for Opportunity campaign, chaired by Allan Leighton, reads like a who’s who of the corporate world. Some now have made diversity a buying criteria for advisory services – no longer the preserve of public sector tendering exercises.

Then there’s demographic reality. While ethnic minorities account for only 7% of the UK population, the picture is different in major cities.

London’s ethnic population, for example, is around a third of the UK total.

With a younger age profile and higher staying-on rates in education, ethnic minorities are a rising percentage of the available talent. And the fastest growing ethnic group is mixed race.

Factor in the newer Eastern Europe communities, and our urban conurbations become a vibrant mix of culture, talent and lifestyles. Contrast that with the make-up of our workforces. Are we sure we are reaching these changing sources of talent?

One benefit is that society’s newer communities tend to have the greatest entrepreneurial zeal. Levels of self-employment are highest among Britain’s ethnic minorities, and their businesses serve not just their own communities, but markets that others vacated. Do our teams really understand how best to serve them?

So whether it’s client, talent or reputation driven, diversity has something to say to professional services. We are continually showing our ability to adapt to dramatic changes in our business environment. Diversity is one such change. Let’s respond.

  • Mohan Yogendran is recruitment director of transaction advisory services at Ernst & Young.

Bad practice can ruin good policy
Joanna Knight

The current accountancy working environment, like many others, does not do enough to encourage minority ethnic groups to enter the profession.

Its standard working practices have been developed to accommodate the needs of the white, middle-class male.

But addressing this issue is not as straightforward as pulling together an equal opportunities policy. Great care has to be taken when addressing the issue of encouraging minority ethnic groups to enter the profession.

There is often a tendency to employ people to fill some sort of quota, but this is entirely the wrong approach to take.

If organisations are to really benefit from diversity, wholesale changes to the way that minority ethnic employees are supported and represented are needed at every level in the business. But in many cases this is handled badly and backfires as a result.

Legislative changes over the last decade have gone some way to ensuring that equal opportunities policies are now the norm at many companies, but far too many organisations simply pay lip service to diversity and equal opportunities, and hamper their own progress as a result.

In particular, more needs to be done to ensure minority ethnic groups have a greater representation at a senior level. However, because of the sensitivity surrounding these issues, it is vital that those individuals are promoted on merit and nothing else.

If people can see the prospects that a career can offer them, they are much more likely to enter a profession, but promoting individuals for any other reason than their ability to do the job causes conflict among colleagues.

The harsh reality is that, given the increased visibility, minority employees have to work harder and be better at their jobs than their white counterparts to gain respect within their roles.

If the profession is serious about encouraging the greater representation of minority ethnic groups, it must look beyond the legal requirements of equal opportunities policies, and focus instead on the broader area of diversity. Only then will the profession be able to legitimise its claim that it encourages these groups to join.

  • Joanna Knight is director of Berkshire Consultancy.

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