Is race and class discrimination hurting business?
June Sarpong author of 'Diversify' asks why BAME and working class candidates are not more valued by recruiters. June makes the case that this exclusion ultimately holds business back.
Produced and directed by Veronica Kan-Dapaah. Directed, edited and filmed by Tom Hannen
You can enable subtitles (captions) in the video player
I'm June Sarpong, and I'm the author of Diversify. And Diversify looks at the social, moral, and economic benefits of diversity.
Is it a critical ingredient to be diverse and inclusive to be a successful business? And...
What should I answer to that?
My answer might surprise you. I was like, no. But it is a critical ingredient if you want to stay there.
People will not notice you're the diversity hire when you start smashing it out of the park.
Two days before I go into Harvard, the funding body contacted me to say that my sponsors had defaulted. So I wouldn't have the funding. I had to face the stark reality that I'd have to crowdfund to get there.
Which was how much?
ISAIAH WELLINGTON-LYNN: £64,000.
In a month, you raised £64,000? ? That's amazing.
I was in a business where the black male was not a model figure that was supposed to be the person going out to win jobs and be in industry.
In this radically changing world, if your business is built on the assumption that diversity and inclusion is nice to have, it's an unstable territory.
In case you're wondering BAME stands for Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic. We have to realise just what racism is, and people don't like the R word, but we have to use it if we're going to get this stuff fixed, if we're going to clean this stuff out, because yes, it's uncomfortable. We're awkward. But it's real, and we have to look at why we think the way we do. And it's not about being judgmental.
For me, it's understanding where this stuff has come from, how you unpick it, and then what the new thing is that we're trying to create. And I think that's the exciting bit.
So Alan, what have you got for me this time?
Well, I thought this time, this came from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which looked at an analysis of labour force survey data, and it's comparing pay for the same occupation. So this is, if you like, a lens through which you can start to see how differently are people being paid for doing the same job.
And this is like for like, unlike the gender pay gap.
This is like for like.
This is like for like.
This is the gap compared to white British men. I think this is a really striking chart because one of the things that you can quite clearly see is that since 2008, since the financial crisis, the pay gap's widening. It's a situation that's getting worse, and it's not the same for all minorities. Actually, Chinese men for the same occupation are actually being paid slightly more. One of the suggested reasons, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi men doing the same job are likely to be younger for example, so there could be some age elements.
An age component.
What about the black African and black Caribbean?
Here, you're in the realms of speculation, because we don't know enough. What the data shows us is intriguing. One of the things that it does show us is that there is likely to be a discriminatory element to this, because those gaps are pretty wide in some categories. It's one of those things where you want to break it down even further and start to understand some of the dynamics affecting each of these particular groups.
If I show you the same chart, but for women.
What do you think?
OK. How interesting.
There's actually quite a few groups which are being paid more than white British women.
So the Chinese...
Yeah, but some similar trends as well, again, a worsening since 2008.
This is when we head into unconscious bias territory for sure. Yeah, and we have to call it out. We have to talk about this.
Absolutely. And also, I think it just shows you the problem of just referring to it as a single category, right, kind of BAME...
As a single thing, right, like it's not. It's a very...
How about that, right?
You can clearly see that it's not.
Very interesting with a black Caribbean group.
Yes, it is, isn't it? Really very interesting. I mean, in fact, in particular on the women's chart, what's interesting is the fact that it's going in the opposite direction to the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and black African categories.
And how much black Caribbean women outperform their men, too.
That's something that needs to be explored.
Yeah, that's right, because on the chart, they have completely different trajectories.
Completely different trajectories.
Really odd. So this data is fascinating because it just encourages you to ask more questions. We're certainly not any sort of endpoint that's right here are all the answers to all the questions, but rather like the gender pay gap when we were talking about that, we said, well, the first step is having some data. But it really is just a first step.
So Shriti and Karen, the McGregor Review found that if BAME talent progressed at the same rates as their white counterparts an additional £24bn pounds could be added to the UK economy.
There's enough evidence isn't there in terms of the McGregor review or whether it's about the Mackenzie reports that shows that those companies which are more ethnically diverse outperform those less so by 33 per cent in the latest update of the Diversity Matters report.
So in 2001, the BAME population in the UK was worth £32bn. In 2011 it was £300bn. That's a huge audience you're missing out if you don't really think about how you communicate and how you involve them in your particular organisation and your business as a purchasing power. So I think facts and stats speak for themselves in terms of evidence that more diverse teams tend to be more productive teams, and more profitable teams, but also in terms of the purchasing power. But race is hard to talk about. In a boardroom it's one of those areas that still now people feel uncomfortable talking about it.
Being in the room where Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to lean in, what I say is often we're not even in the room to lean in. What every organisation needs to ask itself is is everyone in the room, and if everyone isn't in the room, why not? And what are you doing to address that?
Now I know, as a black woman, I am often the only one in the room, and that brings with it some extra pressure in that I know that I don't have the luxury of being mediocre. I don't have the luxury of not being prepared, and often, I'm the most ignored person in the room. Therefore, I've had to learn how to volunteer my opinion.
I'm Rick Lewis. I am chairman and co-chief executive of Tristan Capital Partners.
When I first got here, it was a bit of a shock. I mean, I grew up in the States in the post Civil Rights US environment that was encouraging of other people to get into the workforce. I don't mean that there isn't prejudice, there isn't, you know, bias. But effectively, whether you call it affirmative action or help, a lot of businesses were at least encouraging of a more diverse, open workforce, and I was certainly a benefactor.
When I moved over here, I felt like I moved back into the US in the '70s.
But I also noticed something else it was really important. The difference is that I was regarded... and this is a shame, but I was regarded differently...
I was going to ask you this, yeah.
...than English black folks. And it was something about, like, I was other enough and well-educated from the right schools, and so I was included in the clubs. It seems like a paradox to me, but people that grew up in the system were put in a box, and their aspirations were contained, whereas I didn't feel that containment.
The intersectionality of race and class is something very important that we all need to understand, because often we don't allow for nuance when it comes to BAME. If you look at the BAME individuals that are actually progressing in the workplace, that are getting to senior positions, they are just brown and black versions of the white people who are progressing in the corporate world.
And I think we need to take this one step further. I think we need to open it out. We have to figure out how we make sure that regardless of a person's background, that we're able to pick that talent and bring them into our organisation and allow them to be themselves.
Probably the most interesting data set to look at is the data set that's been produced by the Social Mobility Commission, and what that does is it breaks down the country into the 324 local authorities, and it ranks them based on a whole range of different indicators, about how well each local authority is performing. And what I mean by performing is, basically, what are the prospects of a disadvantaged student? That's what we're really looking at here.
If you were raised in that area.
If you're growing up in that area. And this is the overall ranking of social mobility for England in 2017. And so what we've done here on this map is just divided it into the top half and the bottom half. The green areas here are the top 50 areas, and the next 50 areas. Green is high social mobility. These pinky areas are the ones which are at the bottom of the social mobility rankings.
For me, this is a really interesting map, because this is not a map of the haves and the have nots. It's the map of where do I stand a chance, like where are my chances going to be greater. If you look at the moment, London here on the social mobility index map comes out very, very well. We go to the overall index, it's this sea of green, so these top areas.
If we actually look at a different measure, which is deprivation, London looks very different. So we're breaking it down too much smaller levels, which is what it looks like much more of a mosaic. A similar sort of colour scheme in the pink here is the more deprived areas. The green is the less deprived areas.
And one thing that you can see here is that London is not that continuous wash of green. We know that London...
No, there's lots of clusters.
...is a city of contrast. We're going to zoom into an area that you might be just a little bit familiar with, June, which is Waltham Forest. And so here we've got our colouring of deprivation, and you can see that within the borough, obviously, there's this colour scheme is about...
There's a lot of pink in Waltham Forest.
And this is the top 10 per cent nationally, most deprived, this brightest pink. So in a national context, that's quite deprived. There are some pockets of green...
...as well. What we're going to do here is now take this colour and reinforce it with a bit of a treatment that brings it out into a much more different view of things.
Oh, this is very posh.
But what this is kind of showing us is that the cliff edges that you've got. This is deprivation where these are the highly deprived areas, and you can see...
How interesting, though, that we've got this sea of green surrounded by all this deprivation.
That's why it's really important to notice the haves and the have nots don't have to live miles away from each other.
I know for myself, without having gone to a really good state school, there's no way I'd be where I am today. We had amazing teachers who just expected the best from us. It was incredibly aspirational. And even though there were so many of us that came from quite poor backgrounds, we were around children who came from relatively affluent backgrounds. We could see that there was a bigger tomorrow.
The intersectionality of class is something that Andy Haldane touched on. Imagine this is the chief economist of the Bank of England, someone who presents as the embodiment of privilege and power. But sometimes, you can be surprised.
Along some dimensions, everyone feels like a minority.
Well, I looked at the archetypal, white, middle aged, middle class man. At the point I joined the bank, I was the first wave of state school northerner.
So for most my bank career, which is a long time now, I've actually felt like an outsider, despite looking to all intents and purposes...
Like an insider.
Like a potential insider. And there's something of that, I think, in everyone. You know, everyone's felt a bit of an outsider some of the time. And asking everyone to think about the situations where they were put in a slightly vulnerable position might be inside work, might be outside work, is actually I think very important. I mean the social mobility dimension really needs a push.
Gender is moving too slowly, but it's moving. Ethnicity issues are moving too slowly, but they're moving. Social mobility is going backwards.
On many of the metrics.
What about bringing those voices into who we employ? It's almost the most invisible form of discrimination that we have going on, which
Particularly in the UK.
The UK, the categorisations, sort of the accents, how we judge and who we bring in. It starts so young that you almost sort of really embedded that before these kids grow up, and then they don't stand a chance.
And also what we lose out on is a society in terms of the cultural influence, in terms of actually shaping what Britain is as a nation, when we're not unleashing the potential of so much of our citizens. It makes no sense.
I want to see the people that I grew up with authentically themselves in senior positions of power, being able to run organisations without having to conform. And I don't know how you get there. And I don't know if, perhaps, I'm asking for too much at this stage. But Rick Lewis certainly has ideas.
One of the things that we found in the data is that when it comes to race, often, you find that the type of people of colour that succeed within the corporate structure have often gone through perhaps the Russell group system, or are themselves from actually quite middle class backgrounds. So my question is, how do we change culture, so that wherever there's talent, talent has a chance to be developed?
I think the aspiration of having the talent pool be truly the widest it can possibly be, diversity of all things, including sort of socioeconomic background and upbringing, and bias and leaning would make sense. The unpopular thing that I'm going to say is that any pathway to progress starts with the pioneer stage, where some people get in that are different, but those people that are deciding are comfortable with, and they start to change it. I truly believe that that's where we are.
I saw that happen in the US. I think that's what's happening here.
But I think we have to be realistic that as we get in the inside, it's incumbent upon us to keep the pace of change. So keep the conversation up, keep the fight up, and then when you get a chance, when one gets a chance to change the mix to broaden the room to help people, often subconsciously, get comfortable with difference, that's the moment.
I get it.
So what does social mobility look like an action?
The first step in changing your aspiration bubbles, you have to see yourself in the movie. Then you have to believe that you belong in the movie, and there's the whole thing about forwarding the movie and getting some support to encourage when you stumble along the way in the movie.
Hello, my name's Isaiah Wellington-Lynn. I crowdfunded £64,000 pounds in four weeks to fund my place at Harvard after my scholarship fell through. The campaign was called Stratford to Harvard.
I think this location is very special, because Stratford used to be a very deprived rundown area, a lot of poverty, and it still is to some extent. I think this part of Stratford represents progression and regeneration, and I think that's been a large part of my story.
Newham, for example...
Which is where Isaiah grew up.
That's right, and Newham, again, a very similar pattern here to Waltham Forest, because actually they both score very, very highly on the social mobility index and we were looking at before. So these are areas that are scoring very, very highly on social mobility. The overall deprivation is striking.
Striking. Well, I mean, with Newham, you've only got a tiny patch of green.
That's right. In Newham, virtually everything is skyscrapers of deprivation, and it will be really interesting to see the next release of the deprivation.
Particularly for an area like Newham.
That's right, where there's been targeted investment to try and address some of the longstanding problems.
Do you think the regeneration that happened in this area impacted you in the sense that perhaps had there not been an investment in this community, do you think that maybe your story wouldn't have been possible?
I think my story would have been possible because of the people I had in my life, who ensured that regardless of the limited resources around me, I was still able to pursue my potential. So my mum and other key mentors.
So tell me about the Harvard project.
It was interesting, because Harvard wasn't one of the options really. I created that as an option for myself, and I remember speaking to a few of my tutors, and they said, that's not really going to be possible.
It had never been done before. No one, at least from my background, who had a similar story to me. I just made sure that I was persistent, I provided all of the materials that my tutors needed to write my references, and get to know more about me, and then I applied. And then two days before I got into Harvard, the funding body contacted me to say that my sponsors had defaulted.
So I had to face the stark reality that I'd have to crowdfund to get there. And I was very apprehensive about doing that, because I knew how much work, energy, and, you know, to be honest, vulnerability it would take for me to share my story.
And evoke the kind of support I needed. And it hit me once I got to Harvard that I occupied so many competing identities.
OK, how so?
So as a young black boy of African Caribbean heritage, having grown up in London, that was like one identity, and then growing up in a low income, deprived, lone parent family was another identity. Having studied at top UK university was another identity. I was thinking, OK, where do I fit in? There was no one who I could reach out to.
Fully identify with.
Yeah, fully identify with. I mean, that was very difficult and very challenging. And I must say, at times, I felt like going back to London. I was like OK, I've worked so hard to get here. Peace out.
Yeah, it's too hard.
That's how I felt.
So you've done a lot of internships, and do you think race has played a role in that in a sense that you know perhaps things are not equal, it's not a level playing field, so therefore you need more on your CV than your white counterpart?
I must say it's very draining, draining in terms of the work you have to put in to applying for these internships, but then, once you start, it's also draining, because there's this added burden of race. And it's not something that I can escape. It's not something I can peel off in the morning and then put back on in the evening. It's kind of there all the time.
But actually when you bring in masculinity and race, that's a different experience in terms of black men being seen as a source of fear, a primary source of fear, and what that represents when you're in the corporate world, and how people relate to you.
Yeah, so you hit the nail on the head. That was another element of my identity that was also in conflict. And I had to find different ways to mitigate against, you know, misconceptions.
Everyone faces imposter syndrome to some extent.
Yes, we all do, still do.
But when you're the only different person in your team, you face a whole other level of imposter syndrome.
Can you explain that more?
So it's kind of a constant battle. And it can have quite shocking impacts on how you navigate different spaces, because you're often second guessing every decision that you make. It can lead to intense anxiety.
To any executives watching this, wanting to get diversity right, wanting to figure out how to create workplaces that people of colour can feel welcome and people of colour can thrive in, what's your advice to them?
My advice would be that we exist, and there are people in this world in London and in the UK, who occupy many different identities and therefore are able to understand how best to create and design an experience for different people.
For multiple people.
For multiple people. And I think that's the key that you're not just hiring a black person. You're hiring someone who comes with a suitcase of experiences of how to navigate particular spaces, and then when you translate that into corporate value, it's exponential.
I think Isaiah's story shows us just how broken our system is. Imagine, had he not been so entrepreneurial, there's no way he would have made it to Harvard. And think of the countless Isaiahs that have been lost through the system, because there's nothing in place to make sure that these kids who have the ability, who have the potential, are also being provided with the finances to be able to fulfil that potential.
It shouldn't take such exceptional talent, such all consuming determination for people of colour, from disadvantaged backgrounds, to get access to the corporate world.
What would you say to any business leader or HR manager in terms of number one, why it makes sense to go and actually seek diverse talent, particularly talent from BAME backgrounds? And number two, what is the thing that they can do to make sure that that talent feels welcome within their organisation?
There's a couple reasons. The first is just that you're missing out on a whole population that's really talented, or why wouldn't you pick the best and brightest of the entire basket rather than just a portion of the basket? So that's one reason. The second is that times are changing, and the crowd, the rebel crowd, is going to start to form at your door. It just is.
And they will. And they are.
So if you rest on your laurels, sooner or later it will catch up for you. I think that one recommendation I have is broad - is think about the culture of your department, your group, your organisation, and your business. And is that well suited to accomplishing these business goals, and if it's not, start to change it.
Yeah, but that change is hard if you're a big organisation, if you are a FTSE company, Fortune 500, you've been around for decades and decades, in some cases, centuries, how do you change culture, how do you do it?
Baby steps. Start moving. It's the same recipe. It just may take you longer to change culture and change the numbers.
What's your opinion on targets and goals?
Yeah, I like aspirations, words like aspirations and vectors and targets, rather than quotas. I think that there's a negative connotation to sort of filling a certain number. I think, if you... I mean, this is something I'm going to take the easy way out perhaps, but I think if you start talking about what you're trying to accomplish and what you believe will help you accomplish that, you start rounding into an approach.
Can I push back a little bit? It's funny how when it comes to this issue, we're uncomfortable quantifying, because I don't know a single company, a single successful company that doesn't set itself financial targets, and everyone within that organisation knows what they're working towards and what the company is expected to generate in terms of income by such and such a time. And it's funny how when it comes to this, we want to be a little bit more relaxed.
I think you're right, but I think there's two reasons, one for and one against. I think it's a matter of trust. If you don't define the hard target, I think what you're saying is one good mistrust that you actually have the intent to achieve it. I think that's fair. I think the other part that I think where people are careful is saying, a couple of missteps, and then people will stop trying.
I think we need to redefine where we place diversity within the company structure. At the moment, it tends to fall under CSR. We see it as a charity thing, a nice thing to do. But actually this needs to go into R&D, research and development, because if you are a company that wants to be around 50 years from now, 100 years from now, then diversity is essential for your survival. And this is where you must invest.