One in seven company directors should be from black or minority ethnic backgrounds, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna declares today.
In an exclusive interview with the Standard, the rising Labour star reveals he is ready to support the first official target to tackle the diversity deficit in Britain’s boardrooms.
He hopes that if Labour wins the election on May 7, a target of 14 per cent — reflecting the national population — will be recommended by a commission to be headed by the former chairman of Standard Chartered, Lord Davies.
It would mirror the successful approach of the 25 per cent target for appointing women in boardrooms, championed by Business Secretary Vince Cable. This has helped boost representation of women from 12.5 per cent in 2011 to 22.8 per cent in October last year.
Mr Umunna said firms stood to benefit by tapping the talent and international contacts of the black and minority ethnic (BME) communities: “We have got to go further and look at not just gender diversity but ethnic diversity in British business leadership. There are hardly any black CEOs.
“We’ve just lost one in Tidjane Thiam [joining Credit Suisse] who I think is an incredibly impressive guy, and Ivan Menezes, the head of Diageo. If we can tap into the contacts and talent in our diaspora communities, they have direct links to the very emerging markets we want to expand the UK reach into.” He added, warmly praising his Liberal Democrat rival: “Vince has really put gender diversity in the boardroom and he can be proud of the legacy he and Mervyn have left.”
Simon Walker, head of the Institute of Directors, backed the call: “Voluntary efforts to improve gender diversity on boards are proving to be successful. This ought to be the model to follow when addressing ethnic diversity.
“Any company worth its salt will recognise the benefits of having as diverse a board as possible, in terms of gender, age, background and skill set.” A study of the top 10,000 executives last year — co-written by former equality chief Trevor Phillips — found more than half of FTSE 100 firms had no non-whites at board level. Two-thirds had no full-time executive directors from minorities.
Mr Phillips said today: “It’s good that Umunna is talking about this before the election and not just afterwards.”
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