FTSE boards "recruit in their own image", says diversity guru

22 June 2015 -


As figures show FTSE 100 is sliding backwards on board diversity, Inemmo chief Joy Maitland says blue-chips must follow lead of startups and tech firms

Matt Packer

A narrow approach to hiring is stagnating the talent pool at the top of UK industry, says a leading board diversity expert. Speaking to Insights, CMI Fellow Joy Maitland – chief executive of leadership development specialists Inemmo – criticised the pace of change within Britain’s corporate elite, and urged blue-chip companies to follow the example set by small businesses and tech outfits.

Maitland’s concerns emerged in response to today’s figures from executive-search firm Green Park, which showed that the proportion of non-white managers at board level in the FTSE 100 has fallen from 6.2% to 5.7% in the space of a year, with roughly 40 out of 480 non-white leaders exiting their posts.

By stark contrast, British Library figures also published today showed that a two-year government scheme to run business-support services from public libraries encouraged more than double the national average of women to start their own firms, and triple the number of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. MOBO Organisation founder Kanya King – a British Library ambassador – said she was not surprised that the Enterprising Libraries initiative had been such a success, given that there is “so much untapped creative talent among women and ethnic minorities”.

Delayed shift

But it is talent that FTSE firms have yet to fully harness, said Maitland – often thanks to hiring policies that are rooted in corporate tradition and, as such, exclude key social groups. “People on boards recruit in their own image,” she told Insights, “and since Vince Cable’s call last year to improve board diversity, I have spoken to at least one employee of a large organisation who has told me, ‘Nothing has changed at my company.’ When they are recruiting, boards usually have a type of person – or even a particular person – in mind, so it stands to reason that predominantly white boards are unlikely to choose non-white candidates.”

Maitland explained: “Many large financial services firms recruit from specific universities, so that’s another reason why a shift is not happening at any great pace. Even young BAMEs who do make it into FTSE firms find that the internal cultures create a different kind of glass ceiling. So there are problems with the talent pool – but you have to go further and understand how they come from the way directors refresh that pool.”

However, she added, “what I have noticed is that smaller businesses – while facing exactly the same challenges as their larger counterparts – are far more conscious about diversity, and have it at the top of their minds.”

Unconscious bias

In the current business climate, the startup of today could be the mobile-dominating giant of tomorrow – which means, in Maitland’s view, that new companies are eager to tap skills wherever they can be found.

“Smaller businesses like to think that they have international or global potential,” she said, “and are competing at levels never before seen. In that group, I think tech companies are going to determine what happens in the future, for one very simple reason: tech is about talent, pure and simple. That levels the playing field significantly.

“We saw recently that Google is leading by example, and published its diversity figures – which were actually pretty poor! But they are aware that they have work to do, and are committed to addressing unconscious bias in recruiting.”

Maitland argued: “From Google’s example, it’s clear that the impetus to overcome diversity hurdles must come from the top. Just widening the talent pool a little would help – so senior directors should spend more time mentoring younger, upcoming individuals. Also, we may need to look at the multiple stages involved in getting a job. These days, after making applications, candidates often face online verbal and numerical tests; phone interviews, and a number of interviews in person – and what we’ve noticed is that there’s a large drop-off of young, BAME applicants progressing to higher stages once they’ve applied. We need to research what is happening with confidence levels, here.”

In addition to her work at Inemmo, Joy Maitland is a board director at professional mentoring body The Amos Bursary.

Find out about the Chartered Management Institute mentoring programme CMI Achieve.

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