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Shocking lack of ethnic diversity on FTSE boards ‘looks like a choice’

Edmund Heaphy
·Finance and news reporter
·2-min read
Three businessmen sitting at conference table with hands on table, portrait
FTSE 100 companies are 'complacent' when it came to ethnic diversity goals. Photo: Getty

The author of a damning report on ethnic diversity on the boards of the UK’s biggest companies has lambasted firms for the lack of progress, saying it “looks less like a failure... and far more like a choice.”

Sir John Parker, who on Wednesday published an update to his wide-ranging review on ethnic diversity in boardrooms, said that businesses seemed to have settled for “the familiar and traditional recruitment processes.”

Almost 70% of the UK’s top 250 listed companies have no ethnic representation on their boards, while well over a third of those listed on the FTSE 100 (^FTSE) have no ethnic diversity.

The figures mark an improvement over the original review in 2017, which found that more than half of FTSE 100 companies were lacking a single board member from an ethnic minority.

But Parker said that FTSE 100 companies were “complacent” when it came to ethnic diversity goals, and said he expects many of them to struggle to meet their target of appointing just one non-white director by 2021.

To make matters worse, just six of the FTSE 100 board members from ethnic minorities hold the position of chair or CEO.

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Parker, a former president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a former chairman of mining giant Anglo American, launched his initial review of boardroom diversity in 2016.

Companies on the FTSE 250 (^FTMC) have until 2024 to appoint one non-white board member.

“Although progress has been made to increase the representation of ethnic minorities on FTSE boards in the UK, there is still much more work to be done to reap the undeniable benefits that diverse leadership provides,” Parker said.

“Action is needed to bring about long-term change,” he advised.

Parker said that UK companies should implement an action plan, noting that boards should continually report on their progress with ethnic diversity targets and goals, and that recruiters should be more proactive in recommending non-white candidates for positions.

Research included in Parker’s report found that just 14% of FTSE 100 companies and 2% of FTSE 250 firms have set objectives for board ethnic diversity that are measurable.