BAME stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. I am from a BAME background and I feel passionately about BAME empowerment.
But what does BAME empowerment actually mean? It means the empowerment of BAME individuals to be themselves, made possible by creating an inclusive and accepting environment. BAME power can be enhanced not just through the actions of BAME individuals themselves, but just as importantly by the actions of everyone within the workplace.
When I first started working at the Bank 20 years ago, there were few people like me at work and very little was said and done about diversity. Over time BAME representation in the Bank increased, but there was a need to think about improving and harnessing BAME diversity more effectively. That is why four years ago I co-founded the Bank of England Ethnic Minority (BEEM) staff network, and I have led the network as co-chair until recently. The network aims to ensure that:
- all staff feel fully included in the Bank family
- the Bank celebrates the cultural diversity of its staff
- BAME staff are empowered in their roles and that the Bank will help them develop, progress and realise their potential in their Bank career
- those outside the Bank perceive the Bank is inclusive and empowering for ethnic minorities.
The network’s four pillars are inclusion, empowerment, outreach and the celebration of diversity. The network holds events to celebrate key dates such as Chinese New Year, Diwali and Black History Month. We also work with senior management to design initiatives that empower our BAME colleagues and support the recruitment and progression of the very best BAME staff.
Taking the time to celebrate
Walking through the corridors of the Bank today I feel immensely proud to have led the BEEM network over a period where the organisation has achieved greater diversity and greater recognition of the benefits of diversity. This has been possible given the team effort involving the BEEM network, HR, senior management and the many others who have helped contribute to greater BAME diversity at the Bank. And BEEM’s work was recognised with the network being shortlisted for the Public Sector Network of the Year in 2015 and the Employee Network Group of the Year in 2016.
Below I list the practical change initiatives that had had the most impact for our organisation:
- The design of a new scholarship for students from Black or Mixed African or Caribbean backgrounds. The network identified under-representation of this group within the Bank workforce. The network secured funding of a scholarship that provides financial support of £30,000 plus summer internships over the three year course of university studies. The ultimate goal of the scholarship is to increase the population of Black African/African-Caribbean staff at the Bank.
- The introduction of a reciprocal mentoring scheme called ‘Building Bridges’. As the name suggests the aim is to build a bridge or new network between Bank senior management and BAME staff. It works by providing senior management with the opportunity to learn more about the experiences of ethnic minority colleagues, and it enables BAME staff to learn more about their job opportunities across the Bank. This scheme was the first of its kind in the Bank, and it has received extremely positive feedback from those who took part.
- The Bank has set some challenging, but achievable, BAME targets to broaden the range of thought, skills and experience within the institution. These are supported by a rigorous approach to monitoring progress including through annual review and challenge by Court. Our targets are 20% BAME staff below senior management by 2020, and 13% representation at senior management level by 2022. These targets have I believe enabled us to attract higher proportions of BAME employees. BAME representation below senior management level has risen from 15% in 2015 to 17% in 2016 - these figures are higher than the share of BAME staff in the UK population as a whole (at 14%).
The journey ahead
BAME Diversity is rising at the Bank and elsewhere, but there is more to do. In 2015 14% of the UK population were from BAME backgrounds. If the BAME population were doing as well as their average non-BAME counterpart, then the share of BAME staff at all levels of (including senior management and CEOs) would also be around 14%. But that is not the case yet. Instead, in the UK BAME representation falls back sharply to 4% at CEO level for FTSE100 listed companies.
As a former co-chair of BEEM, I often get asked what one thing would improve corporate diversity. Across the Bank and other organisations there has been significant progress and the good news is that there is a package of measures that I believe could deliver even greater improvement over a reasonable horizon.
So, what are these concrete steps that can be taken to improve BAME diversity?
- Data: organisations need to keep their eye on the ball by collecting and monitoring diversity inflow and outflow statistics regularly. To improve diversity the inflow must exceed the outflow.
- Focus on the woods not the trees: The global financial crisis of 2008 taught us that the safety and soundness of individual institutions does not guarantee the stability of the financial system. Similarly progression and performance of individual BAME staff should be considered together with the performance of the BAME cohort relative. If the BAME cohort overall is doing less well, it suggests some form of unconscious bias.
- Unconscious bias training: A recent book called ‘The Hidden Biases of Good People’ has pointed out that all good people have hidden biases. Staff need to be educated and empowered to recognise and lean against any unconscious tendencies.
- BAME role models and decision makers: BAME staff who have successfully climbed the corporate ladder serve as an inspiration to others. Moreover, having diversity at the top can promote diversity at the bottom, as decision-makers more easily recognise and harness BAME talent. Diversity at the top may also result in diversity of ideas that lead to better decision-making.
- Accountability: accountability for achieving greater diversity should be shared. Organisational culture needs to be set at the very top, where expectations are set. Equally, managers should be held accountable to ensure their teams are diverse, supported by sound HR policies such as blind marking of application forms and diverse interview panels.
- Networks: “United we stand, divided we fall”. BAME staff as a group can raise awareness of common challenges faced. While BAME staff may be different in many ways, they are similar in others. If everyone makes the effort to find and establish common ground this can be a powerful way to tear down misconceptions and build inclusion.
There has been great progress on BAME diversity at the Bank (and other organisations) in recent years. It is really worth taking the time out to celebrate that achievement. And while the journey is not over yet, the recent momentum is cause for great optimism.
Are you interested in a career at Bank of England? Please click here.
 https://www.modernmanager.co.uk/lack-of-diversity-in-uk-companies/ and Audeliss
 Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R Banaji and Anthony G Greenwald, published 2013.
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