Lack of diversity in UK's top firms could hamper post-Brexit trade deals

Warning of issues with striking deals with non-EU countries comes as study shows low ethnic minority boardroom presence

Britain’s biggest companies have been told that a lack of diversity in their boardrooms could hinder government plans to increase trade with non-EU countries after Brexit.

The warning comes as a report shows the number of FTSE 100 businesses with no ethnic minority representation at senior level has fallen from 62 to 58. However, none of the companies have CEOs or chief financial officers who are women from ethnic minority groups.

The study by the executive search company Green Park found that while there has been a rise in the number of non-white workers in the upper echelons of FTSE 100 companies, there appears to be a glass ceiling at the top levels of management.

Green Park’s chief executive, Raj Tulsiani, said the findings should be viewed against the backdrop of looming trade talks with dozens of countries outside the EU.

“In light of the UK’s desire to increase trade with non-EU countries, the ongoing inability of our leading companies to attract and retain leaders from east Asian and African backgrounds should be a matter for serious concern,” he said.

“The UK’s aspiration to be outward looking and open to business with the non-European world is hardly enhanced by the continued lack of challenge in the boards of our leading companies, still statistically and behaviourally dominated by men of similar cultural and educational backgrounds.”

The study found that the senior management at Rolls-Royce is one of the least diverse in the FTSE 100. The engineering group ranked 90th for employing people from ethnic minorities and women at senior levels.

Last year, a government-backed review of ethnic diversity recommended that Britain’s top companies should bring an end to all-white boardrooms by 2021. The report, led by Sir John Parker, the outgoing chairman of the mining company Anglo American, said businesses were failing to promote sufficient numbers of people from ethnic minority groups to senior positions.

The results from Green Park’s annual leadership 10,000 survey raises questions over whether this ambition is achievable. While there has been a small decrease in the number of companies with all-white boards, the number of people from ethnic minorities holding one of the most senior roles – chair, chief executive or chief financial officer – has fallen by 18%.

There are three non-white chairs of FTSE 100 companies and four non-white chief executives, according to the survey. Six of the chief executives are women, including Alison Brittain of Whitbread and ITV’s Carolyn McCall.

There has been a 5% rise in minority representation outside the board, but the figures suggest a problem with progression to the highest levels of FTSE 100 companies, Tulsiani said.

“It is a positive trend that in the pipeline we are doing better around race, but at the top of the pyramid, we have gone backwards slightly,” he said.

Rolls-Royce said it was working to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into its workforce.

“We are well aware of the need to attract talent from more diverse backgrounds, not only into our business, but into the wider engineering and technology industry. It is particularly challenging to attract BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] engineers where numbers across the UK are currently low,” said Heather McVicar, a global diversity and inclusion consultant at Rolls-Royce.


Shane Hickey and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Investor group warns almost 100 firms over lack of gender diversity
Exclusive: Lloyds Banking Group, Foxtons and Paddy Power among those to be given highest-level warning

Kalyeena Makortoff

12, May, 2019 @11:01 PM

Article image
Post-Brexit crisis, what crisis? The FTSE 100 is roaring ahead
After all the turmoil it has taken just a week since the EU referendum vote for the markets to record its best performance in years

Nick Fletcher

01, Jul, 2016 @6:10 PM

Article image
Pound hits year high against dollar as Brexit trade deal hopes grow
With agreement thought to be close, FTSE 100 closes at highest level in six months

Larry Elliott

03, Dec, 2020 @7:16 PM

Article image
Pound up in value as hopes rise of a Brexit trade deal
Some of last week’s losses reversed after EU’s Michel Barnier says deal is possible

Phillip Inman

14, Dec, 2020 @7:49 PM

Article image
Firms plan to quit UK as City braces for more post-Brexit losses
Chancellor to make morning statement to reassure markets as survey reveals negative business impact of EU vote

Zoe Wood, Jill Treanor and Phillip Inman

26, Jun, 2016 @9:40 PM

Article image
Clean up your act on diversity, government tells FTSE companies
Business minister writes to FTSE 350 chiefs echoing calls for businesses to publish breakdown of workforce by pay and race

Katie Allen

29, Mar, 2017 @6:36 AM

Article image
The Brexit economy: things are starting to deteriorate
Cracks are starting to appear in UK economic resilience, with unemployment rising and growth slowing

Richard Partington

22, Feb, 2018 @1:30 PM

Article image
How has Brexit vote affected UK economy? December verdict
Each month we look at key indicators to see what effect the Brexit process has had on growth, prosperity and trade

Richard Partington Economics correspondent

27, Dec, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
How has Brexit vote affected UK economy? January verdict
Each month we look at key indicators to see what effect the Brexit process has had on growth, prosperity and trade

Richard Partington Economics correspondent

30, Jan, 2020 @6:30 AM

Article image
One year on from Brexit vote: business's winners and losers
It’s been a poor year for the pound, savers and UK-focused retailers but firms with sizeable foreign earnings have prospered

Angela Monaghan

22, Jun, 2017 @11:01 PM