Opinion: Managers should be more alert to diversity

Diversity is, quite rightly, a recurring theme across all sectors. It hit the headlines again recently with the proposal of ethnic minority-only shortlists for prospective MPs in some areas to improve representation.

In the public sector, the Audit Commission asks whether services are effective, economic and efficient, if they fail to meet the needs of particular sections of the community. We believe it is essential that the organisations we work with respond to diverse communities over and above what they are required to do by law.

Internally, the Commission promotes mentoring and shadowing schemes and was the first organisation to achieve the Gold Standard international award for its Opportunities Mentoring Programme.

The idea for this Programme came from the Commission’s Ethnic Network Relations Group (ENRG) which held its second annual conference for staff from black and ethnic minorities last week in London. This was an opportunity to hear from the Commission’s management but also from people outside like Peter Herbert, Chair of the Society of Black Lawyers and Kiki Maurey, a business consultant, with some strong views on how to become an effective networker.

Two strong themes that emerged were the need for managers to be more alert to diversity and more confident in the way they address race equality. Another was the importance of properly measuring changes in attitude and performance on diversity issues. In broad terms, progress is being made but much more needs to be done – particularly with representation at a senior level.

In broadcasting a Cultural Diversity Network was established some years ago to hold senior managers to account. Chairmanship rotates around the leading broadcasters and an annual event provides a forum to debate the successes and failures of diversity strategies.

Despite this, according to Media Guardian, little progress has been made, and the rest of the media is even worse, with 'board meetings at the big broadcasters and newspapers about as white as a Klu Klux Klan gathering in the deep South in the 1950s.'

Broadcasters have admitted that there is a glass ceiling blocking the progress of Asian people and other ethnic minorities, and the article interestingly notes that only two national newspapers – the Guardian and the Financial Times – have formal mechanisms for monitoring how many staff they employ from minority communities.

It would be fascinating to find out how well the Public Relations industry does on diversity. I suspect that, like the Media, we have a way to go.

Richard Peel is Managing Director of Communications and Public Reporting, The Audit Commission

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