Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

The best leaders put aside excuses – will you?

At the start of November 2023, national anti-racism charity, Action for Race Equality, took to parliament to highlight the large employment gaps impacting young people from Black, Asian, Mixed-heritage and minority ethnic backgrounds. Their Chief Executive, Jeremy Crook OBE, penned this blog to urge action from corporate leaders.

Let me be clear; there are white male C-suite leaders in the corporate sector with good track records on race equity. BUT there are not enough; they are a tiny minority in London’s corporate world.  

The government’s Annual Population Survey consistently reveals that young Black men are up to three times more likely to be unemployed than young white men aged 16-24 years. This disparity persists even when young Black men hold university degrees. 

Action for Race Equality, a national anti-racism charity, has been tackling this injustice for over a decade through the Moving on Up (MoU) initiative. With fantastic support and significant backing from Trust for London and City Bridge Foundation, MoU has tested multiple interventions to close the unemployment gap for young Black men, including: 

  • Innovations in local employment brokerage to support young Black men in securing jobs.  
  • Collaborative work with the Greater London Authority on a practical guide for employers on reaching, recruiting and retaining young Black men in their workforces; published as the Mayor of London’s Inclusive Employers Toolkit .
  • YouGov-led focus groups to understand the views of employers on diversity and the recruitment of young Black men. 
  • A trial run by the Behavioural Insights Team to test which email messages were more effective in nudging employers towards the Inclusive Employers Toolkit
  • Cross-sector collective impact partnerships in the London boroughs of Brent and Newham to help young Black men enter good jobs. 
  • An Employers Champion Group for employers seeking to increase the representation of young Black men within their companies or sectors.  
  • A creative employer awareness campaign, #TapIntoLondonsBlackTalent developed by creative agency BLITZWORKS Ltd, featuring a short film and LinkedIn campaign targeting Chief Executives and Hiring Managers. 
  • Positive Action Guide for London’s Chief Executives, following the publication of the government’s own Positive Action guidance 

Despite a decade of trialling these interventions, we haven’t shifted the dial on the unemployment disparity rates. This is disappointing but not surprising.

We recognised from the outset that meaningful change in unemployment data would need to come from a major shift in how employers operate. MoU sought to identify the language, messages, and evidence that would prompt employers to acknowledge the issue and commit to taking positive action to level the playing field for talented young Black job seekers. Increasingly we have come to understand that a commitment to action from Chief Executives and Senior Leaders is vital. Unfortunately, these actions are badly lacking.  

From TapIntoLondonsBlackTalent – Great Guns TV/Ballistic

In our latest MoU campaign, we premiered a new short film at EY’s offices in Canary Wharf. The film highlights the lived experience of one young Black man and his unusual approach to get his CV noticed by employers. Although it was an inspiring launch event, it was mainly attended by Black and Asian people and a small number of white people, many of them from the public sector and already committed to inclusive recruitment. Notably, there were virtually no C-suite white men from large companies. 

As someone who attends numerous, race equality, diversity and inclusion events, including the prestigious Business in the Community’s race equality employer awards led by my highly regarded and inspirational colleague Sandra Kerr CBE. This annual event held at Park Lane hotels attracted hundreds of public and private sector organisations.  

Whilst these are very ethnically diverse events, it seems that most organisations do not field their CEOs, as participants at previous events I have attended have mostly been senior leaders and employees from HR, D&I and CSR teams.  At these, and similar events, my co-attendees are mostly from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, or are white women. More and more I notice that white men in leadership positions are largely absent from these race equality events and conversations.  

Jeremy Crook, CEO, Action for Race Equality

This absence suggests to me that corporate leaders are reluctant to get a grip on race equity. They are either not collecting, failing to analyse, or avoiding publishing data on application, recruitment and progression rates by ethnicity, and can very rarely state what proportion of their workforce are young Black men. And they do not like to talk about race directly, preferring the more comfortable ground of ‘social mobility’ and ‘cultural diversity’, which ignores the persistence of ethnic disparities across all socio-economic levels. 

In London, there is a growing Black middle class who are seeking progression in their professional occupations, not ‘social mobility’.  They want a level playing field for recruitment and for genuinely merit-based progression. 

I recently had the pleasure of meeting two young Black men in my office, which emphasised to me the need for equity across their lives. They were both at the halfway point of studying A’ Levels. Both were charming and interesting young people with clear career aspirations. They came suited, wearing ties and looking very smart. Towards the end of the conversation I mentioned Action for Race Equality’s work in the criminal justice system and we touched on police stop and search. I could immediately see a seriousness appear in their faces as they told me that it doesn’t matter what they are wearing, even in smart office suits they have been stopped and searched by the police multiple times.  

As a young black man in London, I often wonder whether the hard work put in by myself and others who share my background will ever be reflected in high-ranking roles within companies. Even when we achieve academic success and earn recognition, we find ourselves constantly on the back foot. This underrepresentation should be a strong incentive for CEOs to consider more inclusive hiring practices that actively include black individuals, as they have a unique opportunity to tap into a wealth of neglected, determined talent. 

Mustapha Sadiq

This comes back to my point about social mobility.  These young men are middle class, their parents have middle class jobs, their older siblings are graduates. What they are battling against are negative racialised stereotypes systemically held by many police leaders and officers, employers, teachers, magistrates, and politicians.  In every sphere of their lives, including in job interviews and workplaces, they want to be respected and treated as any other young man, and not seen as a risk or threat. 

It’s time for employers to stop making excuses  

I frequently hear from employers that they are committed to race equality and they would like to recruit more young Black men but they are ‘not sure what to do’.  This is very hard to accept given the plethora of resources available to help. There are checklists, guides and toolkits including our own brand-new Positive Action Guide and Inclusive Employers Toolkit. Additionally, resources from ACASBITCCBIIoDEHRC and GLA, and government-sponsored commissions like Race in the workplace (produced by Baroness Ruby MacGregor-Smith CBE) and the recently published positive action guidance for employers are readily accessible. Plus, there is no shortage of race equality organisations and consultants ready to help. 

London’s financial district

People from Black, Asian and mixed ethnic groups make up 40% of London’s population and 50% of London’s young population aged 24 and under (Census 2021). Despite this, they occupy only 24% of London’s manufacturing jobs, 26% of construction jobs and 34% of financial services jobs. And talented young Black men – who make up one in five of all young men in London – including graduates, are far more likely than their counterparts to be unemployed. Why is this happening? 

For me, this points to a failure of leadership. Moving on Up and other initiatives have made all the arguments to employers; the moral case, the business case, it’s the ‘right thing to do’ case. McKinsey regularly publishes compelling evidence that ethnic diversity improves the bottom line. I can only conclude that many employers are content to forego improved profitability to remain unreflective of London’s ethnic diversity. 

As London’s Chief Executives walk around their offices, they should be asking themselves some crucial questions: does my company reflect London’s 40% Black, Asian and mixed ethnic group population? Are 50% of our young employees from Black, Asian or mixed ethnic groups? Are 1 in 5 of our young male employees Black? 

If not, it is time to take positive action.  

If you are a Chief Executive or Senior Leader in London’s corporate sector and want to explore the issues we have raised, please get in touch with ARE.

Author: Jeremy Crook, CEO