Appointment panels hold unconscious bias

By Ian Thomas | 21 August 2018
  • Ian Thomas

Set against an 18% declension in FTSE100 over the past year, the worrying trend regards the low percentage of black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) senior leaders in local government is no surprise to me. For decades, BAME colleagues have been under-represented at this level within the sector.

According to the 2011 census, BAME citizens make up 13% of the population in England and Wales. Given that there are 375 local authorities, from a crude and very simplistic perspective, around 49 chief executives should be of BAME origin.

However, as I write and reflect on the who’s who of local government, I can count BAME CEOs on one hand. Accepting I do not have an encyclopaedic quality as regards the whole sector, based on the knowledge and expansive network I do have, I am quietly confident that the actual number does not exceed 10 (3%) or much more.

So why are we still where we are? According to recruitment experts, Green Park, of 1,000 senior BAME workers, 82% said there is still institutional prejudice against minorities at work. Over 20% have personally experienced it in the last three years. This prejudice, I believe, is unconscious bias, an unintended consequence of appointment panels that are severely lacking in diversity.

In my opinion, the solution is two-fold. First, we must develop the supply chain. If there are no BAME managers there will be no BAME leaders.

I have benefitted from mentors who have spotted what I can offer at each level throughout my career and have championed me as an aspiring leader. We need more people to do this.

Second, and concomitantly, we need to ensure appointment panels at all levels are more diverse so more BAME managers are appointed who will, with continuous development, become tomorrow’s senior leaders.

This is my call for proportionate, positive action.

Ian Thomas is the chief executive of Lewisham LBC and a qualified executive coach and mentor

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