26/09/2017 13:26 BST | Updated 26/09/2017 13:26 BST

White Power Is Holding Back Britain

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To some people the revelation that just 3% of Britain's most powerful and influential people are from an ethnic minority might not be that surprising. The image of white men in old school ties sitting in oak-paneled rooms is as old as empire itself.

Yet when you consider the increasingly rapid pace of change by which the country is becoming racially-diverse it is clear that a modern country can ill-afford to keep the bastions of power as the exclusive preserve of the privileged.

I was involved in this first ever assessment of race and power in Britain, which was a collaboration between campaign group Operation Black Vote, The Guardian and the recruitment consultancy Green Park. We expecting things to be bad, but the findings were even more shocking. So much so, that we put all their faces on a website so you can visibly see how white power really is.

From a list of over 1,000 leaders in finance, politics, the law, top universities and institutions, just seven (0.7%) were BAME women. There were only 11 men and women in the country of African or Caribbean descent.

Social media reaction included those who said that Britain is a primarily-white country so what's the problem? They are behind the times. The ethnic minority population of England and Wales is 14% but this is dwarfed by the fact that 28% of pupils in grant-maintained secondary schools are BAME. The non-white population is growing fast. And that means that if progress is slow in changing the face of power, racial disparity between society at large and the elite will also get much worse.

It's all about making the 'pipeline' of talent from graduates to boardrooms fair. Some unfairness is baked into the education system. Black graduates are three times less likely to get a first despite getting better GCSEs.

The pathways to power are not working, and this is leading to a massive waste of talent that post-Brexit Britain can ill-afford. One estimate puts the cost of racial unfairness at £24 billion per year, or 1.3% of GDP.

Research by McKinsey showed that more ethnically-diverse companies were 35% more likely to earn above the industry median. Part of this is that diversity also means a wider range of ideas, less group-think, and more innovation.

Racial unfairness is part of the problem. But class and gender matter too. For instance, white women graduates are three times more likely than black women to get a first, yet our research shows that only 22% of the most powerful are women. The rest are men.

The FTSE100 list showed this starkly. Just two Asian men and five women. The key blockage is on the journey between middle and senior management. But there's also a barrier just getting in the door.

If you have a foreign-sounding name you have to send three times as many CVs to get an interview. Bangladeshi and African graduates are twice as likely to be overqualified for the job.

Too many professions are not doing enough to ensure there is a supply of talent to choose from when it comes to senior positions. It's not just snowy peaks but snowy valleys as well.

Some areas, like politics and local government, are doing better but others, such as law firms, the media, and policing, remain a real concern when it comes to racial diversity.

Yes, diverse firms do better, but there is an added reason to fixing this problem. A more meritocratic nation will boost the soft power of Britain plc. Just as diversity helped London win the 2012 Olympics, so too can it pave the way for trade deals and attract business in a competitive world.

With diversity we all benefit. If power remains almost exclusively white it is increasingly likely to hold the entire country back, as well as becoming an even greater source of social tension as new generations demand change.

Lester Holloway is a consultant with Operation Black Vote, and communications coordinator for the Runnymede Trust