Melanie Eusebe: How to improve diversity
Melanie Eusebe, award-winning business strategist and co-founder of the Black British Business Awards, tells Lysanne Currie how businesses can improve diversity
Melanie Eusebe likes to tell a story to explain why she set up the Black British Business Awards (BBBA). When she was a girl, she loved to play the flute, but one day she stopped. She turned her back on something that gave her enormous pleasure. Why? Because she couldn’t see anyone else who looked like her doing it. As she’d later comment, “It was as if I had my own glass ceiling put on me.”
There are glass ceilings everywhere. While we probably like to imagine ourselves a little more “woke” nowadays, there remains chronic under-representation of black talent in the UK. In the investment industry alone, the stats are damning: just 51 of the 1,097 most powerful roles in the country are taken by non-whites. While according to a 2018 study by New Financial, just 12 black portfolio managers were located in the UK investment management industry. A glint of hope: created by the President of Capstone Investment Advisors, Jonathan Sorrell, the #100blackinterns campaign aims to help university-educated black people break into the City. Under the scheme, 80 asset managers, including Brooks Macdonald, Fidelity, Royal London and Schroders, have signed up to offer paid internships to black candidates next summer.
In the era of Black Lives Matter, the spotlight is once again on racial inequality – and a renewed determination that we cannot return to the “old normal”. Eusebe founded her own initiative, the annual BBBA, in 2014, following a chat with two friends running an organisation for the advancement of women in business. Taking inspiration from their example, Eusebe and Morgan Stanley COO Sophie Chandauka created the awards “to shine a light on talent we had not seen… we knew thousands of amazing black talents who are doing amazing things”.
Melanie Eusebe's steps to embedding diversity in business
Monitor diversity and inclusion
We always say “what gets measured gets done”, so we need companies to monitor diversity and inclusion (D&I) as they would any other key performance indicator. When this happens, we’ll begin to see real change.
Put metrics in place
There are the classics you should be doing anyway – attraction, retention, etc – but more innovative companies go deeper, measuring behaviours around black employees. How do we engage directors, leaders, career counsellors and line managers to create an inclusive atmosphere? By measuring performance.
Look at your supply chain’s diversity – advocacy isn’t enough
D&I is more than just an internal conversation about talent: it’s about Sephora dedicating 15% of its shop floor for black suppliers or financial services institutions looking at how to engage black SME customers.
Consider representation in what you produce
How do we represent black people in everything from media services to talent shows. FMCGs need to ask “Do we need to revamp our products so we are inclusive to all?”
Treat D&I as a risk to be mitigated
We need someone reporting to the CEO. There must be tangible metrics at each level so that everyone is responsible for D&I in their department.
Review your systems and processes
One organisation I work with is doing a complete review of their performance reviews and management. Look at the incumbent processes and structures that may be enforcing racial injustice.
Create diversity focus groups
Put people around a table and let them throw stones at your ads, pitches, products and services to make sure you are truly making diverse products.
The vision must come from the top
Make clear this isn’t just about D&I, but the business taking a stand against racial injustice.
Put yourselves out there as a place where black people can prosper
So when an executive is looking for an organisation where their career can grow, they see yours as welcoming.
The awards would celebrate and promote rising stars in the Bame business community, highlighting routinely unsung UK talent. But it would also act as a crucial role model – a way to show others, especially young people, that it’s possible to succeed and break free from damaging stereotypes. “If you look at our soaps, TV screens, or experts on the news, there’s little representation of [black] bankers, doctors or physicists,” she says. “This was an entirely positive movement to say ‘Hey, I know these people exist, do you?’ Because it might change your stereotypes just a little bit and accelerate the conversation.”
Eusebe and Chandauka had assumed the awards would only be “a little event – and then all of a sudden everyone just jumped on it”. Fast-forward to 2020, and the duo are now working with “leading scientists and professors at some of Britain’s great universities to examine what is happening to the talent in the UK”. It has since grown into a powerful change agent for the diversity agenda, launching fresh initiatives such as Middle Action Research, Bame Talent Accelerator and Bame In The Boardroom.
For Eusebe, diversity means celebrating difference and seeking it out. It is about aiding and encouraging that difference in order to make a stronger solution. Progress has been made, but there’s still a long way to go.