More than half of executive management teams admit it is harder for employees of some ethnicities or backgrounds to be promoted regardless of their performance. 

The findings come from global research by Russell Reynolds Associates, which has found there is a growing acknowledgement of the structural hurdles holding back ethnic minority employees in UK workplaces.

The findings come after the Government was forced to defend its decision not to mandate ethnicity pay gap reporting and found the majority of UK C-suite leaders believe bias is still a real issue in their organisations. 

Employees, however, are considerably less likely to be aware of this bias with just a third (35%) of employees believing this to be the case. 

The survey of 677 employees and 96 C-suite leaders also points to the significant role leaders play in perpetuating bias.

Almost half (44%) of C-suite leaders believe that fellow leaders show favouritism towards employees with a similar mindset, belief, or ethnicity. 

Ethnicity bias a global trend

Laura Sanderson, a leader of the Board and CEO Advisory Practice of Russell Reynolds Associates, said knowledge is key to changing how things are done: “Our findings also underline just how important it is to collect better diversity data. Ethnicity pay gap reporting is a vital tool to help understand where minority ethnic workers are being held back and to measure progress. Any business in the UK that can collect this data should do so.”  

There is a similar trend across the world, as 62 percent of C-suite leaders admit there are barriers to promoting some ethnicities. 

The reasons for the trend are unclear, as studies point to diverse teams bringing more innovative thinking and higher productivity. Meanwhile, a study by Untapped’s AI platform also showed ethnically diverse groups have a higher emotional intelligence (EQ) than white colleagues.

Out of all the ethnicities recorded, ‘Black British’ scored the highest EQ on the platform, producing six per cent greater EQ than colleagues that are white. Women also scored higher on the platform than men. 

Using AI feedback, Untapped AI works by combining the psychology of leadership with AI to create a personalised development programme to provide insights and trends for businesses and employees. 

Black employees not given chance to demonstrate skills

Kendal Parmar, co-founder and CEO of Untapped AI: “The sad reality is that instead of utilising their EQ in leadership roles black employees can often find themselves using their high EQ to ‘read the room’, avoid conflict, and diffuse microaggressions. This is neither inclusive, nor an effective way to approach diversity, and workplaces need to do more than introduce training programmes that do not open constructive conversations. Organisations that want to truly drive change will need to put inclusion at the heart of everything they do and harness the best in technology to identify where they can improve.”

Laura Sanderson said: “UK leaders are clearly aware of the structural biases holding back minority ethnic employees. But concern needs to translate into action. There is so much leaders can be doing to debias their promotion decisions, from changing candidate specifications to scope talent in, to including a more diverse range of voices in decision making. Individuals need to be supported by inclusive leaders who take personal responsibility for sponsoring their success.