It’s time for businesses to set and publish clear targets on racial diversity, says Lord Karan Bilimoria, President of the Confederation of British Industry. He talks to Brunswick’s Jon Miller about a bold campaign.
Businesses have been talking about board diversity for a number of years, but progress is slow. In the UK, more than one-third of board seats are now occupied by women, but most of these boards still have very low levels of racial and ethnic diversity. The increase in gender diversity on boards is largely thanks to the work of campaigns like the 30% Club, which now has chapters all over the world. But there has been no similar campaign on racial diversity—until, that is, the launch of Change the Race Ratio.
An effective advocacy campaign needs strong strategic communications and campaign planning—as well as a striking name and brand—and as a founding partner, Brunswick was able to help the initiative get off to a strong start. Other founding partners include Aviva, Deloitte, Linklaters, Microsoft, Schroders and Unilever. The ambition is to get all FTSE 350 businesses to sign the campaign’s “Commitments to Change”, and at the start of 2021—only three months since launch—Change the Race Ratio is preparing to announce it has hit 70 signatories.
Change the Race Ratio is your first major policy initiative as President of the CBI. Of all the issues that you could have chosen, why this?
I was asked to be President while serving as its Vice President, which allowed me a year to plan what I wanted to do when I assumed the position. I arrived at four priorities, one of which was promoting ethnic minority participation in businesses across the board in the UK. To put that planning in a bit of context: It began in June 2019, before the tragic killing of George Floyd and the awareness it sparked of Black Lives Matter. This was, and very much is, a particularly pertinent issue for me; I’m the first ethnic minority president of the CBI in its 55-year history.
Then at the beginning of 2020, the Parker Review, which had been set up by the government in late 2015, published their latest findings on ethnic minorities on UK boards. Their 2020 findings included concrete targets: each FTSE 100 board to have at least one director from an ethnic minority background by 2021, and for each FTSE 250 board to do the same by 2024. And the Review also showed that companies were nowhere near that: 37 percent of FTSE 100 companies, and 69 percent of FTSE 250 companies, didn’t have a single ethnic minority board member.
We saw a possible parallel with what the 30% Club had done for championing women on boards. Ten years ago, Lord Davies said, “We need more women on boards.” The Davies Review set a target. The 30% Club as a body came about and championed this target, which they’ve now achieved. One-third of FTSE 350 board members are women—and only one FTSE 350 company doesn’t have a woman on its board. Just as the 30% Club championed the clear targets set by the Davies Review, I felt Change the Race Ratio could champion the clear targets set by the Parker Review.