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Bittersweet Success? Glass Ceilings for Britain's Ethnic Minorities at the Top of Business and the Professions

A major new report by the UK's leading think tank Policy Exchange, supported by Harvey Nash, shows that ethnic minority progression at the top of business and the professions is a story both of glass half full and glass half empty.

In the past generation, a cohort of talented minority Brits has emerged from elite universities into top posts in medicine, the law, and some parts of business. Indeed, minority representation in the highest social class -- the higher managerial and professional class -- is now 11.6 per cent non-white minority compared to just 10.8 per cent white people.

But there are still blockages in particular at the very top of the NHS, the civil service, academia and business -- the FTSE100 has only 17 non-white British-born directors out of more than 1,000.

Lead author of the report, Shamit Saggar, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Essex, said:
"Britain has a melting pot of talent. It is clear from our research that people from a minority background are progressing in nearly every walk of life. This is down to hard work, drive and a determination to succeed, a clear trait among many minority communities. But there are still some blockages and 'snowy white peaks' at the very top of business and in our public institutions."

Peter Reichwald, founder of Engage and Director at Harvey Nash Executive Search, said:
"This report shows there is still much work to do. Recent Harvey Nash research reveals that the majority of board appointments still go to candidates already known to the organisation, suggesting companies are simply not opening their nets wide enough.

Moreover, seven in ten leaders from ethnic minority backgrounds believe their ethnicity has been a major barrier to their career progression. Business, government and executive search firms need to work together to bring about change. It is one of the reasons Harvey Nash established Engage, a network specifically targeted at bringing together senior leaders from all cultural backgrounds."

Download a full copy of the Policy Exchange Bittersweet Success? Glass Ceilings for Britain's Ethnic Minorities at the Top of Business and the Professions

Notes to editors:

  • Four in ten board appointments are made without any formal process, and more than half go to candidates already known to the organisation. This is despite almost two-thirds of boards prioritising widening the skillset of board members, especially in digital, according to the Harvey Nash Board Report 2016/17 in association with London Business School's Leadership Institute. More information:
  • Seventy one per cent of senior business leaders said their ethnicity/cultural background has been a significant barrier to their career progrression, according to Harvey Nash's report - The Ethnicity Gap.
  • Harvey Nash launched Engage to bring together senior business leaders from all cultural backgrounds. Its purpose is to act as a platform for discussion, networking and peer-to-peer support for a section of the business community traditionally underrepresented at executive and board level. More information: