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Black employees held back from progressing within financial services businesses

  • Over half (52%) of black respondents do not believe they have equal opportunities at work
  • Over seven in 10 (71%) black employees have experienced discrimination at their organisation
  • Almost half of black employees (46%) said they believe engrained working practices or cultures have made it hard to progress

Black employees across the financial services sector believe that they do not have the same opportunities as their colleagues when it comes to career progression and are still subject to high levels of discrimination in the workplace, according to new research.

The findings from reboot., a think tank and network of senior professionals working together to maintain the dialogue on race and racial inequality in the UK workplace and society, show that over half (52%) of black respondents, which incorporates Black, African, Caribbean or Black British backgrounds in financial services roles, do not believe they have equal opportunities at work, the highest among all ethnicity groups surveyed, and significantly below 84% of white employees who believe they do have equal opportunities.

The report, ‘Race to Equality: UK Financial Services’, conducted in partnership with research house Coleman Parkes, surveyed 800 employees from 440 UK financial services firms, ranging from blue chip firms to boutiques.

Key findings include:

  • Black employees do not believe they are being treated equally to their colleagues: Black employees are least likely to receive equal recognition at work relative to their colleagues, according to over a third (34%). This compares to 33% of Asian colleagues, and just 20% of white colleagues. This disparity in experience is reflected in a lack of career progression for black employees, with 39% of the view that their career progression has been lower than that of white peers.
  • Black employees face high levels of discrimination: alarmingly, seven in 10 (71%) black employees report having experienced discrimination at their organisation based on their background. High levels of tolerance for discriminatory behaviour may be fuelling this culture, with only six in ten (60%) black employees convinced that racial, ethnic and gender-based jokes are NOT tolerated in their company. Only half (53%) of black employees feel comfortable discussing issues of racism within their team.
  • More work needed to create a truly inclusive environment: black employees feel least able to be themselves at work across all ethnic groups, with only 55% responding that they feel comfortable enough to talk about their backgrounds or cultural experiences with colleagues, while over a quarter (27%) feel the need to change aspects of their behaviour at work to fit in.
  • Outdated company cultures are holding back black employees. When asked about the barriers to career progression within financial services companies, almost half of black employees (46%) said they believe engrained working practices or cultures have made it hard to progress.
  • Developing black role models and senior leaders is integral to creating a more inclusive culture. To tackle the issue, two thirds (64%) of black employees would like to see a greater diversity of people in senior levels, while having a visible senior role model in the company with a similar identity or background is an important factor for nearly half (46%) of black respondents.

Lawrence Heming, Research Lead for reboot. and Assistant Director at EY, commented: “These findings reflect a sobering reality that many black employees face in today’s professional environment. As the stories and role models currently being profiled during Black History Month are showing us, listening to experiences of the black community is a crucial step to building awareness and addressing the inequality we see today. It is no longer sufficient for companies to take a catch-all approach to diversity and inclusion measures. The report shows that black employees are the least supported ethnic group within the workplace, and business leaders across the financial services sector need to reflect on the feedback from employees and do more to listen to individual experiences.” 

Justin Onuekwusi, reboot. Ambassador and Head of Retail Multi-Asset Funds at Legal & General Investment Management commented: “These findings highlight the progress financial services firms still need to make to achieve a truly inclusive and representative culture for black employees. The events of the past 18 months have helped to ignite a crucial conversation around race in the workplace, but if we’re to achieve progress these candid conversations must materialise into action. It is critical that business leaders take the time to understand the individual lived experiences of their black employees and accurately pinpoint the unique challenges they face. With a deeper understanding of the specific prejudices and obstacles experienced, employers must drive more effective change that will achieve greater parity in the workplace.”

Mary FitzPatrick, reboot. Advisory Board Member and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Rolls Royce commented: “Despite a surge in the national conversation around racial diversity, far greater action is needed if we’re to start moving the dial in terms of achieving representation, and crucially inclusion across the industry. If progress is to be made, the tone needs to be set from the top. Business leaders need to take diversity and inclusion seriously and consider it top of the corporate agenda. This includes regularly listening to ethnic minority employees at all levels, acting as senior sponsors and allies for younger black employees and updating and evolving training programmes and recruitment policies to improve awareness and representation.”

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