Earlier this week Race for Opportunity and our sister campaign Opportunity Now published the first part of our annual Gender & Race Benchmark. This is our third year of publishing a joint benchmark and it has gone from strength to strength. 114 public and private organisations submitted confidential data in 2014 - an increase of 70 per cent from 2012 - which enables us to paint an accurate picture of what the employers who are leading the way on workplace diversity are getting right and setting an example for others to follow.
The publication includes four unranked top 10 lists of the best performing public and private sector organisations on gender and race. Whilst we should applaud all those named for their efforts, I'd particularly like to note our four new entries this year - Accenture, the Ministry of Justice, the BBC and Circle Housing Group. It's great to see new organisations on the list as more employers recognise the need to put diversity at the heart of what they do and ensure they are able to compete in a rapidly changing society.
We have also published our findings on three key areas: Progression and Leadership, Performance and Appraisal, and Bullying and Harassment. They make for interesting reading, particularly in the area of getting more women and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees into management and senior management roles. Whilst the employers that took part in the Benchmark are doing better than the rest of the country at supporting BAME employees into senior positions, I would like to see more organisations taking greater strategic action to improve BAME representation - as they are already doing for women - in executive level feeder pools and on boards. We also need to see more organisations putting their targets for diverse boards and senior management in the public domain.
The situation for BAME employees is particularly bleak; they are less likely to be rated in the top two performance categories, and BAME women are least likely to hold executive directorships or non-executive directorships. That said, they are more likely to be promoted at other levels than BAME men. Meanwhile, both women and BAME employees are less likely to be identified as 'high potential' or selected for leadership training overall. All this adds up to one clear message: current performance and appraisal mechanisms are not working for women or ethnic minorities.
So what can employers do to improve performance on gender and race? Our findings have also identified a number of success factors, such as transparency in selection criteria, equality-proofed core competencies, competency-based frameworks and dedicated progression programmes for women and BAME employees. Training on diversity and inclusion can also be beneficial for line managers, who can then in turn promote BAME- and gender-related initiatives to their team members. Recruitment panels recognising and addressing unconscious bias can help to reduce unintentional exclusion of potentially good candidates who might not match the 'traditional' leadership profile.
I would encourage any organisation that wants to improve promotion rates for women and BAME employees to implement these actions - but they must be embedded into core operational processes and driven from the top. If senior leaders take responsibility for increasing diversity at all levels of their organisation, rather than letting it become 'just another initiative', it shows they are serious about creating positive change and making the most of all their employees' skills and talents.
The 2014 Benchmark analysis confirms our advice to employers has delivered, but there is still more work to do. Public targets, transparency on progression criteria, equality-proofed competencies for progression, and greater support for line managers - who play a crucial role in changing work cultures - is what we want to see continued progress on for 2015.
We know what works. We now need more organisations from every sector to use this knowledge and take action to close gender and BAME employment gaps that have no place in our 21st century workforce. The Benchmark reiterates just what employers need to do to ensure they are fit for a diverse future.