Why are there no black CEOs in the UK?
In this guest article, written exclusively for Business Leader, renowned business coach Peter Boolkah delves into the reasons why there are no black CEOs in the UK and the changes that need to be made to address this.
We are nearing the end of Black History Month and for many, a period of reflection. As a mixed-race business coach and consultant, I work specifically with CEOs and business leaders and have done for over 20 years. In that time I have never coached a CEO of colour. In fact, I have never met a CEO of colour in all my global dealings and I have not met any other coaches of colour. I am uncomfortable with that and what it means. When you dig deeper, the statistics support this lack of representation.
A 2021 ONS report found that CEO ethnic minority representation had halved between 2019 to 2021, from four down to two percent and shockingly, for the first time since 2014, there was not a single black Chair, CEO or CFO in any FTSE 100 company. Why is this? The simple explanation is that if there are no CEOs of colour to look up to then fewer people in minority groups will see the business world as a viable option for them. What is clear is that the lack of representation of people of colour within the global business world does not reflect our society in 2022. If we do not have a workforce which reflects our society then we cannot move forward.
We are all familiar with the word ‘racism’. Many of us will have different interpretations of it. However, very few of us comprehend the real-life consequences of racism in terms of the future of UK business. Recently a London Development Plantation Wharf hit the headlines. The roads on the development had been named ‘Cotton Row’, ‘Trade Tower’ and ‘Molasses Row’. These are names which are synonymous with the slave trade.
If there had been more black people sitting around the table when the important business decisions were being made, this would not have happened. They are now reviewing the name. This is just one example of how a lack of representation of people of colour at the top of corporations and large businesses can have a profoundly negative impact on business. This situation will have had financial implications at some level.
Discrimination starts as soon as a person of colour is born, in some cases before. However, the real problems often start at school. 95% of young Black British people have witnessed racist language in education and the YMCA’s Young and Black report also found that teacher perceptions are seen as the biggest barrier to educational success.
I am half Czech and half Mauritian. I was born in East London in the 70s. I hated school. I tried to fit in and do the right thing, but I was still bullied and discriminated against. I found the world a divided and difficult place.
A group of black or mixed-race teens will have likely suffered bullying, racism and probably violence by the time they leave school, more so than white teenagers. All that will have had a profound impact on their confidence, even if they mask it. They will be thinking with a minority mindset. That they aren’t good enough, that they don’t deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. When you come from a minority group, you often do not feel you have a clear place in society.
Our answer to dealing with this problem often feels clumsy. There is a lot of positive discrimination out there and it can feel to people of colour that they are being singled out once again, in a different way. This is often described as being othered. There is no doubt that business leaders and boards of directors must hire with diversity and inclusion in mind and that will help change the trajectory. However, empowering the individual to use discrimination and hardship and flip it to their advantage is just as powerful a business tool.
Life experience is specific to the individual. Knowledge and experience of difficult situations and how an individual deals with those situations sets them apart from others. This can be invaluable for a business and give them an edge over its competitors. Adversity can and should act as a catalyst to propel a person forward.
It is important to build up young people from minority groups and show them how to be confident and deal with situations that many white people may not have to deal with in the business world. Whilst many say the onus is on society to change their mindset, principally relying on society to change is foolish. The individual must change their mindset in order to succeed.
Self-confidence and seeking out opportunity is paramount. Educators must ensure that despite having few black role models to explain and represent the business world, they find another way of demonstrating that this world is for everyone and that the representation of a successful black person is not only as a footballer or a singer.
For those people of colour who are climbing the ladder in their organisation and for those young people interested in becoming a part of the business world, make connections, push hard and do not get caught in the minority mindset. There is absolutely nothing to stop you from becoming a CEO/CFO and changing those statistics.