Ethnic minorities plan fails to convince firms

Plans to
give awards to companies for taking part in a Government-backed scheme to boost
ethnic minorities at work have come under fire from HR leaders.

Kay Allen,
equal opportunities and diversity manager at B&Q, said the plan to revamp
the Commission for Racial Equality’s Leadership Challenge did not go far enough
and could undermine the initiative’s credibility.

Allen said,
“I don’t think the scheme provides a strong enough framework, and I am unsure
about the award system. There are now so many award schemes that they are
losing credibility.”

The CRE
launched the challenge in partnership with the Government in 1997 to encourage
business leaders to champion the cause of racial equality. However, after the
initiative failed to win board-level support, the Commission announced it would
relaunch the challenge in March.

The CBI
also questioned the level of support for the Leadership Challenge. Policy
advisor Simon Blake said, “Despite its disappointing performance in the private
sector, the CBI supports the challenge.

“The danger
is that it will remain a paper commitment.”

Businesses
joining the revamped challenge will have to set timetabled targets for ethnic
minority recruitment.

B&Q’s
Allen said, “Just getting companies to draw up one set of targets is not enough
– we need to constantly strive to set new targets and improve standards. The
Leadership Challenge needs to become more customer-focused if it is to get more
support from business.” At the moment it is too internally focused.

At the
consultation meeting last week business leaders claimed companies were
recruiting more ethnic minority staff, but not at management level.

Peter
Davis, group chief executive of Sainsbury’s, admitted that only 4 per cent of
the chain’s managers were from ethnic minorities, while John Lewis chairman
Stuart Hampson said that 7.8 per cent of its management grade staff were from
ethnic minorities.

By Richard
Staines

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