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Workplace equality

Companies need ‘awkward conversations’ to address lack of diversity, Dr Kamal Munir of Cambridge Judge says on BBC programme.

Couple of business persons talking seriously in the lobby.
Kamal Munir.
Dr Kamal Munir

Companies need to have “awkward conversations” to prompt managers to fix the lack of progress in racial equality in the workplace, Kamal Munir, Reader in Strategy & Policy at Cambridge Judge Business School, said on The Bottom Line programme on BBC Radio 4.

The programme – entitled “How to build a racially diverse business” – was hosted by BBC presenter Evan Davis, who said that “good intentions have been around for decades” but have not led to the changes that many people want.

“We need to encourage people to have these awkward conversations,” said Kamal, who was a guest on the programme. “We need to go beyond unconscious bias training and actually engage managers in this bigger problem and right this historic wrong where we’re not making progress” in recruiting and promoting BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) people.

Kamal cited statistics that showed 37 per cent of companies in the FTSE 100 index do not have a single BAME director on their board, only five per cent of directors in the FTSE 250 are BAME directors, and “in terms of setting objectives for boardroom diversity, only two per cent of the FTSE 250 had any explicit objectives set for themselves.

“So it’s a pretty pervasive problem and a problem that is not going away,” said Kamal, who is Race & Inclusion Champion at the University of Cambridge and Academic Director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at Cambridge Judge.

Other guests on the programme, broadcast on 23 July, were Karen Blackett, the UK head of advertising and marketing company WPP, Dame Judith Hackitt, a board member of high-speed train project HS2, and Kike Oniwinde, founder of the BWP (Black young professionals) Network group.

Kamal said bias in the workplace is usually “not overt and that’s what makes it very difficult to battle in many organisations, because a lot of people are not even aware of white privilege and certainly not aware that it may have played a role in getting them where they are.” He added that there is often a “cultural matching process” where new employees are recruited from the same background as the recruiter. Asked about quotas, Kamal said: “As much as they’re important and necessary they are in the larger scheme of things suboptimal and a temporary thing, and should be a temporary thing.” And while boardroom composition is important, “we don’t want the same person of colour sitting on 16 different boards” as it is also crucial to look at recruitment and promotion policies across an organisation.