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Glass ceilings for Black women are lower

HazelannHazelann Williams says that initiatives promoting women in business should not exclude Black women

Perhaps I would not have been so sceptical about Harriet Harman’s plan to combat unequal pay before I decided to become a journalist. Before that, I had only experienced a small part of the working world.

Working within the media gives you opportunities to explore many different aspects of society and I was lucky enough to be invited to the Women For Boards launch reception held in the House of Commons terrace, with an array of successful business women in attendance, including MP Patricia Hewitt and Sainsbury’s director Anna Ford highlighting the importance of having women as board members. The only thing that was missing was a black face.

The new initiative, created by MWM Consulting, has been heralded as the tool that will break through the glass ceiling and propel business women out of the shadows and into the boardroom. Women for Boards aims to bring high-quality women from various backgrounds to the role of non-executive director in the FTSE 250.

They are compiling a database of “high-quality women” who, if selected, will be mentored by a “highly experienced, female Non-Executive Director” such as the CBI president Helen Alexander. Out of around 180 attendees there were three Asian business women, whom the company’s PR representative confirmed, they wished to make clear that there was a black business women invited who could not make the meeting but they could not mention any names.

Colleen Harris

Colleen Harris

The focus of this initiative was not on diversity, although it was mentioned many times in various speeches, but on getting women on to boards, as there are only 7% female non-executive directors across the whole of the UK. I was assured that it is not a deliberate policy to exclude black women from the initiative, all of the women in attendance were from “the network” recommended by associated directors or mentors.”

I refuse to believe that MWM Consulting simply did not know any black women who would be suitable for the role of non-executive director, but I also do not think it was deliberate or vindictive. Whilst I can not speak for the network of Patricia Hewitt, Baroness Sarah Hogg or Anna Ford, there are many women of colour who have extensive business knowledge and experience; Yvonne Thompson CBE, Angela Sarkis, Heather Rabbatts CBE, Diane Abbott and Colleen Harris to name a few.

Black people, on the whole are severely under represented within the business sector, with one black CEO in the FTSE 100, Tidjane Thaim, who was appointed as chief executive of Prudential in March 2009. We could put this down to many things, the most obvious reason being that all ethnic minorities only equate to 7.9% of the UK population.

This is a weak excuse, anyone who works within a FTSE 100 company or even the head office of the Guardian newspaper can tell you there are many black women and men working in their offices, as canteen staff, cleaners, receptionist and so on.

The glass ceiling for an ethnic woman is far below that of a woman. This is a brilliant initiative that could prove invaluable to businesses as companies with three or more women on their boards have an 83% greater return on equity than companies with the lowest representation of women, but women from ethnic backgrounds who can offer equal value were severely under-represented.

Surely if we are aiming to bring the wealth of womanhood into the male controlled sector of business we should include all types of women?


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