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Deep Dive: Multicultural Representation in the UK’s FTSE 100

Deep Dive: Multicultural Representation in the UK’s FTSE 100

Multicultural representation at the board level is not a matter of optics; it’s what allows UK companies to remain competitive around the world. As Sir John Parker, Chairman of the Parker Review Committee explains, it increases “alignment of the Board with its customer base at home and overseas.”

With an emphasis on the demographic changes that are happening in the UK and international markets, the Parker Review hopes to incite concrete, effective action to develop and reap the benefits of an ethnically diverse workplace. UK FTSE 100 Boards are the focus of the 2020 report, with results that show promise for the future, yet spark criticism about the slow progress since 2017 (when the first report, and the recommendation to achieve at least one director with an ethnic minority background by 2021, was published).

Parker Review: The results

To get the full picture, it’s important to consider the differences between the reports from 2017 and 2020. Due to GDPR restrictions, current data is voluntarily self-reported by companies through an online survey, while data from 2017 included ethnicity classification from open sources.

From the FTSE 100: 52 companies hold one or more director from an ethnic minority background; 31 have failed to achieve the target; 13 companies did not offer sufficient information; and four companies failed to respond.

Given the substandard results, what are some of the challenges that these companies face? And what are the steps that UK companies need to take to achieve their goals for 2021?

Recommendations and responses from experts


According to the Parker Review, a good way for companies to start meeting their goals is to implement thorough reporting of their ethnic diversity policies, as well as the activities that are meant to facilitate the entrance and professional growth of employees from multinational backgrounds. To prioritise senior and executive positions, these reports should cover nomination committees and board appointment processes.

Why is this data collection important for companies? As careers expert Jo Cresswell points out, diversity shouldn’t be just another tick-box exercise. To avoid a culture of tokenism, she additionally suggests hiring a Head of Diversity and Inclusion. This should ensure diversity at the highest levels, which positively impacts job seekers and the engagement of the workforce.


Here’s where the optics of multicultural representation comes in. The Parker Report also mentions that executive recruiters need to pay more attention to the marketing aspect of finding highly talented ethnic minority candidates.

Dr Jill Miller (Senior Policy Adviser for Diversity and Inclusion, CIPD) has something to say about the vital role that HR plays in that process. With recruitment and promotion practices that are inclusive, the barriers that different groups face can break down. The way to achieve this, according to Miller, is to talk about race and ethnicity instead of avoiding those conversations, and therefore encourage sustainable change. And for it to be truly sustainable, the conversations need to happen at the leadership level.


The most direct way to ensure a multicultural workplace is through this third recommendation: “A pool of high potential, ethnic minority leaders and senior managers should be developed as part of a cross-sector sponsorship/mentoring programme.”

As Sandra Kerr, Race Equality Director at BITC explains, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic leadership is able to monitor specific issues such as ethnicity pay gaps and any lack of access to opportunities; particularly when it comes to key roles in the talent pipeline. This is a vital, concrete step for any organisation.

A multifaceted challenge for the FTSE 100 

Multicultural representation on FTSE 100 Boards can learn a lot from another diversity issue: female representation at Board level. While progress has been made in the last few years with an increase in women in leadership roles, which can inspire companies to put a similar focus on ethnicity, Dr Doyin Atewologun mentions some key differences and challenges.

As Director of the Gender, Leadership and Inclusion Centre at Cranfield, she explains that men tend to have more empathy and connection with their female colleagues due to an existing relationship with other women. On the other hand, this isn’t always the case with men in power and their ability to relate to people from different ethnic backgrounds. This can form a lack of understanding of the problems they face in the workplace and, naturally, the most effective solutions.

To face such a complex challenge, organisations should take the previous recommendations and expert responses more seriously, as they hold important keys for tangible progress and success in the near future.


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