Supporting the progression of Black and Ethnically Diverse Talent as allies

By Samantha Lubanzu
Vice-Chair & Inclusion & Diversity Lead at CIPD Manchester
11 February 2022


To mark Race Equality week 2022 we shone a light in our recent Inclusion & Diversity session ‘Supporting the progression of Black and Ethnically Diverse Talent as allies’.

We welcomed Winnie Annan-Forson, co-founder of Exellerate Black Futures. Winnie, who proudly celebrates her heritage as a Ghanaian and Dutch woman, wants to change the landscape and narrative for Black futures, including the futures of her two children.

Understanding the landscape

Winnie spoke about the importance of first understanding the landscape and business case for progressing Ethnically Diverse talent.

She highlighted the devastating facts that no FTSE 100 firms have Black executives in the top three roles and that Black and ethnically diverse individuals struggle to achieve the same progression opportunities as their White counterparts.

I too can relate to this and remember vividly my own lived experiences where I had applied and was successful at interview several times for the same role, within the same company I’d worked for more than five years. I was told I’d done an amazing interview but was still later told I was not a ‘fit’ – despite previous top review ratings and recommendations’.

~ Samantha Lubanzu

Winnie brought these hard realities to the forefront:

  • Over 30% of Black Africans and Black Caribbean employees reported being overlooked for promotions
  • Black employees hold just 1.5 per cent of senior roles in the UK
  • One in eight of the working-age population are from a Black & Ethnically Diverse background
  • One in 10 of the Black and Ethnically Diverse working-age population are in the workplace
  • Ethnically Diverse individuals hold only one in 16 top management positions

Winnie stated that not only is there a clear moral case for advancing Black and Ethnically diverse talent but there is also a business case that cannot be ignored. According to the McGregor review,

‘The potential benefit to the UK economy from full representation of BME individuals across the labour market through improved participation and progression is estimated to be £24 billion a year, which represents 1.3% of GDP.

Race in the workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review

This means that the more diverse a company is, the more the company benefits.

Common myths about representation

Winnie went on to explore some common myths about representation in senior roles, which included:

  • Myth 1 There aren’t enough Ethnically Diverse candidates or employees on the talent market vs. data shows they are present but not actually being promoted
  • Myth 2 There is a skills gap, and candidates don’t often have the skills required for senior roles vs. data research shows that there are high skills and level of ambition amongst Black and ethnically diverse talent
  • Myth 3 There are equal opportunities for colleagues of all races, and people need to work harder to succeed vs. systematically historically barriers that block progression

Barriers to progression for Ethnically Diverse talent

Winnie pointed out the barriers to progression for Ethnically Diverse talent:

  • Lack of visible role models – representation matters, and individuals are unlikely to apply if they do not see anyone that looks like them
  • Lack of transparency in the hiring process – backdoor hires by White males who hire those who look like them
  • Lack of constructive feedback from hiring managers – when there is no transparency why they are not successful, it is harder to see growth
  • Lack of sponsorship and mentorship – not many available poses a challenge
  • Lack of psychological safety or confidence – individual bias and microaggressions can knock confidence based on past experience
  • Ineffective performance management systems – Black and Ethnically diverse talent end up at the lower end of scale and no transparency on where they can improve
  • Low level of line manager support for career development – Managers not true leaders

Belonging, inclusion, and equity

Winnie warned that it is important not to focus only on diversity and that belonging, inclusion, and equity play a considerable role. Winnie mentioned that research shows that 57 per cent of Black and ethnically diverse talent work harder but earn less. She demonstrated that ‘just ticking a box’ and moving on will not make people feel they belong.

Organisations need to remove the obstacles in people’s way. When done right, the business gets a return on investment by a 50 per cent drop in turnover and a 75 per cent drop in sick days.

Why we need allies

Winnie explained that there is a strong need for allies. She defined an ally as ‘any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole’.

Winnie shared that it is essential to have aspirations as everyone benefits. She challenged participants to reflect on where they are in their own ally journey by using the Jennifer Brown continuum scale

Five practical things allies can do

Winnie stated that it takes time and perseverance, but it is a win-win for all. Winnie went on to discuss how to be an ally for Ethnically Diverse talent:

  1. Sponsor Ethically Diverse colleagues
  2. Call out unacceptable behaviour and microaggressions
  3. Challenge your own biases and entrenched beliefs
  4. Educate yourself on challenges Ethnically Diverse colleagues face
  5. Recognise the diversity that exists within the Ethnically Diverse community

Winnie provided an example of when someone who was White did not have a positive exchange with her, and someone witnessed this and called out this unacceptable language to the leader. The leader challenged this behaviour with the individual. Winnie received a phone call with an apology. The person said she ‘did not realise her language’s impact‘ on Winnie. Winnie highlighted the importance of an ally as ‘someone in her corner‘ and who will call out unacceptable behaviour to a more senior influential person.

Five practical things HR and hiring managers can do

Winnie finalised by sharing practical things HR and hiring managers can also do:

  • Improve representation on talent programmes and succession plans
  • Audit HR processes & analyse data trends for systemic bias and racism
  • Place an anti-racist lens on all policies
  • Improve racial diversity on candidate slates and give meaningful feedback
  • Increase transparency on open roles & minimise ‘hiring through the back door’

We’re keeping the conversation going

Join us with an esteemed panel on 31 March from 18:00-20:00 via Zoom

Closing thoughts and quiz

I’d like to thank Winnie for such an inspirational and practical Diversity and Inclusion discussion with real actionable takeaways. If you’re a business leader take my one-minute free inclusion quiz

  • It’s FREE and only takes 3 minutes and see your score instantly
  • Identify Key Area(s) of Improvement and discover what area(s) you should be focusing on next
  • Personal PDF report with detailed feedback

You’ll receive a PDF report with detailed information about where you are right now, and what you can do to improve.

Take the quiz


  1. The Guardian: FTSE 100 Firms have no Black executives in top three roles
  2. Race in the Workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review
  3. BITC The Race at Work Black Voices Report
  4. HR Review: Only 1.5% of senior roles held by Black people Forbes: Allyship – The Key To Unlocking The Power Of Diversity 2018
Location Manchester, England E-mail Hours Our hours vary according to our programme.
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