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Ethnic discrimination rife in UK financial services, survey finds

Minorities report experiencing discrimination in the workplace and having fewer career opportunities

Workers from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK financial services have said that they experience discrimination in the workplace and have limited career progression opportunities compared to other employees, according to a new diversity initiative focusing on the sector.

A survey, conducted by research house Coleman Parks, found that two thirds of mid and senior-level financial services workers surveyed in the UK reported experiencing workplace discrimination as a result of their ethnic minority backgrounds.

A further 48% of the respondents said that their career progression was slower in comparison to their white colleagues. At the same time, 76% of white workers described themselves as being ‘satisfied’ in their current role.

The survey also revealed a lack of trust in company diversity initiatives, with fewer than half of respondents saying that they believed their companies were ‘fully committed’ to enhancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

A total of 800 workers responded to the survey, representing 440 UK financial services employers ranging from blue chip firms to boutiques. It was commissioned by reboot, a newly-created working group of senior communications professionals operating within the sector.

The group has also outlined a five-point plan for employers looking to provide a more inclusive workplace environment, which include consulting with ethnic minority employees on diversity issues rather than relying on non-diverse senior leadership teams to make decisions, and developing ‘visible’ senior role models from minority backgrounds.

The research comes as companies face increasing pressure to increase the proportion of ethnic minorities on management teams and boards, rather than at junior levels where minorities are often better represented.

Commenting on the research, Sachin Bhatia, Head of Core Institutional Clients and Consultants at Invesco, said that aside from firm-level initiatives on diversity, “what we really need to see is clear direction and action from senior leadership, coupled with a culture shift that empowers middle management, introduces accountability within companies themselves, and ultimately encourages people in the industry to acknowledge there’s an issue”.

Blue Bay Asset Management CEO Erich Gerth said: “Whilst I like to think the majority of us want to create and proactively push for a working environment that supports diversity and inclusion (D&I), it’s important not to let our own perceptions muddy what might not always be a positive reality for some.”

In the past two years alone, a number of prominent Wall Street firms including BlackRock, Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo have faced legal action over allegations of discrimination on the basis of gender and ethnicity. In February, two former BlackRock employees claimed they had faced sexual harassment and racial discrimination at the firm. BlackRock said in an internal memo at the time that it disagreed with the portrayal of the firm by the former employees, but committed to launching a “broader DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] strategy” and an expansion of “manager and employee training on behaviour, conduct and respect”.