There are now zero Black executives at the top of corporate Britain

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Corporate America may be falling short on racial diversity by having a mere three Black CEOs in the Fortune 500—two of whom head companies in the top 100—but the situation is even worse in the United Kingdom.

Green Park, a leadership recruitment and consultancy outfit led by the veteran anti-racism campaigner Trevor Phillips, issued early findings from its annual Business Leaders Index on Wednesday. And for the first time in the report's six-year history, the number of Black leaders at the top 100 U.K.-listed companies is…zero.

As in, there is not one Black chief executive officer, chief financial officer, or chair among the companies in the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 index. The last Black CEO in that index—Carnival's Arnold Donald, an American—fell out of the listing when the pandemic pushed the cruise operator out of the FTSE 100 last year. 

"We know there is no shortage of qualified candidates to fill these roles if companies are willing to look," said Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. "Yet the snowy peaks of British business remain stubbornly white."

“Rhetoric rather than reality”

The findings come in the context of the U.K.'s first Race Equality Week, which was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and last year's global protests.

According to Phillips, the statistics "put some flesh on the bone" of those protests, clarifying the challenge that corporate Britain faces.

"It is time that shareholders, consumers, and employees start questioning whether Black Lives Matter is just rhetoric rather than reality," he said. "Corporate leaders need to stop telling us how much they care and do something to show us that Black lives really do matter."

Green Park is proposing a new rule that would mean spending decisions above 1% of revenues have to be made by a diverse group. The aim here is to avoid situations in which nonwhite executives feel they have been given their positions as "diversity window-dressing."

The consultancy's survey did show a slight rise in other ethnic minority groups' representation at the top of British companies, but that has been offset by the disappearance of Black representation. Just as when the analysis began in 2014, 3.4% of those occupying CEO, CFO, or chair roles have other ethnic minority backgrounds.

To put that in context, nearly 15% of the U.K.'s population comes from an ethnic minority background, and Black people account for 3.4% of the country's working-age population.

Data talks

The problem is manifest elsewhere in Europe too. In France, fewer than 1% of the CEOs of listed companies are of non-European origin. Among the 179 people on the management or executive boards of German companies in the FortuneGlobal 500, just two are nonwhite.

In France and Germany, however, a lack of official racial demographic data makes it harder to quantify the problem. That's not an issue in the U.K., where disparities are relatively clear-cut.

Unfortunately, Green Park does not see the situation improving in the U.K. anytime soon. Over the past year, it said, Black representation in the leadership pipeline fell from 1.4% to 0.9%—more broadly, ethnic minority representation in the pipeline is down from 10.7% to 9%.

Also on Wednesday, Reuters reported that eight of the U.K.'s 14 top banks have failed to publish ethnic diversity data, despite having signed up to the Business in the Community Race at Work Charter, which obliges them to collect such data. Of the other six, three have published limited data, while three—Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC, and UBS—provided full breakdowns.

Lloyds' data showed a 16.7% mean pay gap between Black and white employees, along with a mean bonus gap of 52.9%. Around 1.5% of the bank's U.K. staff are Black, as are 0.6% of senior management.

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