What are some obstacles for blacks in Britain to rising up the ranks in the business and corporate world? Do you think they are similar to those that black Americans deal with?
I imagine they are pretty similar to those faced by African Americans—about 30 years ago! We are still a long way behind. So, for example, there is only one black CEO of a FTSE 100-listed company, Tidjane Thiam at Prudential plc. (no affiliation with U.S.-based Prudential Financial Inc.), and he was only appointed this year and is not British. He is from the Ivory Coast and came here via France. We are probably about 10 years away, I imagine, from having a black British CEO of a major company.
Do you really think that the lack of diversity in the business and corporate world stems from an inability to locate the right people or are there other things at play?
Quite often it’s about networks and whether or not you are a part of the right one. In England, for example, a lot of socializing goes on in the pub. But many black people don’t go to a pub on a regular basis, so they miss out. There are other exclusive preserves, too: golf clubs, private members clubs, and the old school tie-in. All of them are in effect devices people use to congregate around people like them. It’s not surprising that so many business decisions are made in these places between the people who are a part of them. Historically, blacks have been kept out of these networks. One of the things we are building with the Powerlist is a strong network of our own. So, for example, if an African American wants to do business in London, we can introduce them to people—black people, at the right level—who can help them to get things done.
This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.