How Farage fell out of step with diversity debate

12 March 2015 -


UKIP leader’s reported comments on equality laws clash with the realities of ethnic representation at the top of corporate life

Matt Packer

Remarks from UKIP leader Nigel Farage on the ethnic makeup of Britain’s workforce have once again highlighted issues of diversity and inclusion, and how they are handled by policymakers.

According to reports, Farage provided his contentious comments for a Channel 4 documentary scheduled for broadcast next week, in which he was interviewed by former Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) chair Trevor Phillips. Explaining his view that we are now living in a post-racial Britain, Farage is reported to have said, “If I talked to my children … about the question of race, they wouldn't know what I was talking about.” On the question of equalities legislation, he added that he would scrap “much of” the current laws, and argued that bosses should have more freedom with their hiring decisions.

On that point, he was quoted as saying: “I think the situation that we now have, where an employer is not allowed to choose between a British-born person and somebody from Poland, is a ludicrous state of affairs. I would argue that the law does need changing, and that if an employer wishes to choose – or you can use the word ‘discriminate’ if you want to – but wishes to choose to employ a British-born person, they should be allowed to do so.”

While Farage this morning sought to distance himself from the remarks – telling BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that they had been “wilfully misrepresented” – they have nonetheless set out a vision of UK employment that is sharply out of step with realities that have emerged from recent, high-profile research.

A study last year from executive search organisation Green Park found that all-white boards run 69% of companies in the FTSE 100 – and even more alarmingly, 95% of the total number of FTSE 100 board directors are white – indicating not just that opportunities for non-white executives at the top of British corporate life are severely limited, but that the 31% of apparently more “diverse” boards are in fact overwhelmingly Caucasian.

Following the publication of those findings, Business secretary Vince Cable called for FTSE 100 firms to have at least one non-white member by 2020 – an aim that has since been enshrined in the 2020 Campaign, spearheaded by Cable, City veteran Sir John Parker, comedian Lenny Henry and Farage’s interrogator, Trevor Phillips. Reacting to the figures, Cable said: ‘Black and ethnic minority (BAME) representation on UK FTSE 100 boards is currently at around 5%, which is much lower than we would expect if the company boards reflected the population of this country … We know that businesses with diversity at their top are more successful. But diversity stretches beyond gender balance.”

Those points were echoed today by Chartered Management Institute (CMI) head of external affairs Patrick Woodman. Speaking to Insights, he said: “Evidence clearly shows that people from BAME backgrounds are under-represented in senior management roles, and there is still a long way to go to tackle the unconscious bias that too often leaves them excluded. It is also clear that there is a strong business case for diversity in the workplace, as it delivers results and improves the bottom line in organisations of all types.”

He added: “CMI is currently developing a national survey to explore employer practices on diversity, and we will be asking members to contribute their thoughts on the matter very shortly.”

CMI’s recent Management2020 report contained numerous ideas on how organisations can harness Purpose, People and Potential – including by championing diversity. Download the full report.

Image of Nigel Farage speaking to the media courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

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