Reflections on the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report
Media Coverage 18th December 2020 3 minutes read
The fact that RWRC’s Tech 100 does not contain a single Black person is disappointing, and in some ways, surprising.
The retail industry is operating in an incredibly difficult and unforgiving environment, and companies need the best technologists to help them address multiple threats.
If retailers and digital brands are unattractive to diverse tech talent, the consequences could be grave. The good news is that retail boards can change this – but only if they go beyond short-term, token measures.
From the outside, there’s a lot of positive buzz around the retail industry, particularly food retailers’ response to the pandemic and the heartening reaction to the racism that the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad received. However, the lack of Black talent within the Tech 100 shows there are problems beneath the surface.
We need to look beyond the superficially upbeat narrative to see the full picture.
The findings of Green Park’s 2019 Leadership 10,000 report were perhaps a forewarning of the dearth of racial diversity in digital commerce, as highlighted in the Tech 100.
“I find the lack of Black talent in the technologist talent pool mind-boggling. After all, consumer businesses have traditionally been good at spearheading progress and change”
Our research – an in-depth review of the gender and ethnocultural diversity of FTSE 100 leadership – revealed woeful levels of ethnic minority representation across the highest tiers of the wider retail industry, over a year ago. While the number of ethnically diverse professionals at board and executive level had increased since 2018, it still stood at a diminutive 5% (up from 3.1%). Meanwhile, the ethnic minority leadership pipeline had stagnated at a dismal 10.7%.
The report warned that without visible and tangible diversity at senior levels, we would see greater employee attrition, erosion of customer base and crucially, an inability to attract and engage minority ethnic candidates. Does the shortage of Black talent in the Tech 100 suggest the last prediction is coming true?
Despite the prescience of the Leadership 10,000 report, I find the lack of Black talent in the technologist talent pool mind-boggling. After all, consumer businesses have traditionally been good at spearheading progress and change for the broader private sector markets.
It seems retailers have understood the need to make technology part of the business model in order to survive – but have failed to invest in tech talent with the pace, aggression and open-mindedness that other industries have shown. If they can’t attract the best technologists? Well, we’ve all seen what happens to retailers that fail to innovate and adopt an effective bricks-and-clicks strategy.
The problem is not about finding diverse talent – any recruiter can come up with a list. It’s about attraction and engagement. Those are areas that retailers have ignored for far too long.
Those businesses that are serious about increasing ethnic minority representation in tech need to rebuild their brand in ethnic minority target markets, but that’s no straightforward task.
The market is fragmented and every community is different. Instead of a one-size-fits-all strategy, retailers need an intelligent, nuanced approach with different suppliers, different thinking and different fee structures. It’s no good using the same methods and expecting more diverse results.
“Most retailers don’t have the money to buy their way out of the problem or the talent pipelines to build up a more ethnically diverse tech workforce in-house”
In short, there’s no easy fix to this problem, though that’s exactly what many boards want. Spurred by a knee-jerk reaction to the latest reports of lack of ethnic diversity, some take convenient but ultimately ineffective short-term measures.
At this point, most retailers don’t have the money to buy their way out of the problem or the talent pipelines to build up a more ethnically diverse tech workforce in-house. So, they latch on to the first cut-and-paste solution that claims to increase ethnic minority representation.
While such solutions may require less time, money or resources, they rarely create any long-term benefits. But even if companies commit to long-term programmes of work – for example, working with community-building experts to rebuild their brand in target markets – there’s no guarantee of success.
The solution then? Without senior ethnic minority leaders to provide a bridge between decision-making and lived experience, businesses will lose out in the fight for diverse talent.
This article was published in Retail Week on the 18th December, 2020.