Should the government think about an ambitious plan to bring more BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic – used to refer to members of non-white communities in the UK) people into Britain’s boardrooms?

The aim could be for one in five directors of FTSE 100 companies to be from a BAME background.

Lord Davies’ review into women in the boardroom, which began in 2011, has had some success in increasing the numbers of women in senior business roles.

But is this a good thing? Do we need quotas?

Success stories

My father’s generation came to this country to work in the textile mills. Most of them were uneducated.

But times have changed. We now don’t think twice when we see a BAME doctor, surgeon, nurse, dentist, optician, pharmacist, lawyer or accountant.

We read success stories of BAME business people and are sometimes surprised when we find out that the well-known brands we love are owned by BAME business people.

“Companies should not be forced to take people on just to meet a target, another box that’s ticked”

Someone recently came to see me at our office in Leeds, and it turned out he was Scottish. The first thing he said to me was: “Did you know that your lift has a Scottish accent?”

He was so pleased that he even tweeted about our lift having a Scottish accent.

I would feel the same way if I met a BAME person sitting on the board of a company, I would want to tweet about it to the world.

Quotas

That’s the problem, we just don’t have many BAME business people selected to sit on the boards of companies. 

If we are to have more diversity on boards, to get our numbers up, quotas must be a good thing, right?

No, I don’t agree.

Companies should not be forced to take people on just to meet a target, another box that’s ticked. I wouldn’t want to be selected just because a company needed to reach a target number. 

“Boardrooms are just not representative of the world we now live in, and the customers their companies serve”

But have we got a problem? Yes, we have.

Boardrooms are just not representative of the world we now live in, and the customers their companies serve. They don’t represent the people that spend money with the companies.

Something needs to change, and we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss it – it’s a subject that will undoubtedly generate a lot of debates.

An online article about the Government-backed Parker Review, saying that Britain should do more to end all-white boards, attracted 294 comments. Some had to be removed because they broke the house rules, and many were racist in the way they talked about the subject.

Many people have strong views, but only express them when they can hide. I didn’t realise Anonymous was such a popular name.

Arguing for change

So, if quotas are not the solution, what should we do?

The chief executives of companies have got to be more aware of the world their companies live in. They need to recognise the mix of people that work for them. They can learn a lot from the public sector, which is very good at employing people from all ethnic backgrounds.

Is change possible by itself? Can people change? Probably not.

One of the observations I’ve made in my time in business is that people are very good at making well-crafted arguments for why there shouldn’t be any change. They are well-versed at explaining why you don’t understand and why the status quo can’t be changed.

“That change must come from the businesses themselves, because otherwise the Government will impose quotas, and that’s wrong”

Most of the time I just listen and don’t say anything, it’s not worth the argument.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I met a non-white person who sits on a board, and that means there has to be a problem.

We can’t carry on with lots of BAME professionals in business, but very few at the top.

That change must come from the businesses themselves, because otherwise the Government will impose quotas, and that’s wrong. It has the potential to breed resentment and bring only short-term tokenism rather than long-term solutions.

And if you’re wondering, do I ever get asked to sit on the board of a private or listed company? The answer is no. 

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